Spreading troubled oil on troubled waters . . .

The brilliant Sean Kinsell has a must-read post on the topic of homosexuality in Japan. He starts by observing that unlike ours, Japan's is a shame-based culture:

Japan, as you've no doubt heard in various contexts, is a shame culture rather than a guilt culture. I love our American forthrightness and sincerity, but (partially on ethical grounds and partially because of plain old temperament) I always feel a sense of release when I'm boarding a plane back to Narita. It comes from the knowledge that I'm returning to a place where every last little turn of phrase or arch of eyebrow isn't mirthlessly prodded for complex psychological motivations, where you can expect people to be polite and considerate in public, and where no one cares about your private life as long as you don't force people to reckon with it.
No one cares. Attitudes like that are very refreshing for Americans to contemplate, because there's no need for guilt -- something Americans often confuse with shame.

Sean makes a compelling (if somewhat heretical) argument that American gay activists have been all too quick to overlook hidden benefits of the shame-based view:

....there are benefits to Japan's tradition-mindedness that I think a lot of gays in America have been too willing to cast off. The lack of gay ghettos means that it's pretty much impossible to wall yourself into a queer-positive echo chamber and start seeing rank-and-file straight people as an enemy arrayed against you. It also means that very few people see their homosexuality as their entire identity, with anti-gayness blamed for every disappointment, setback, depressive episode, and failed relationship. You never hear Japanese gays getting into princessy snits about not being approved of or officially sanctioned exactly like straight people in every last finicking little detail. At ordinary gay bars, you meet brittle, desperate guys who are obviously using a constant stream of sex partners to avoid dealing with their issues much, much less frequently than you do here in the States. (Even here, they're a minority, of course; their attention-whoring just makes them disproportionately noticeable. But the Japanese in general don't burden put the burden of self-definition on sex to the point that we do in the US.)
For many Americans, this guilt-free view could be considered quite refreshing in a sexual context. That's because, while on the one hand there is shame if one creates a public spectacle, on the other hand personal privacy is preserved and protected, and there's no need for guilt.

America is a mongrel culture consisting of people coming from shame-based backgrounds as well as people coming from guilt-based cultures and backgrounds. This leads to a confusion between guilt and shame which often strikes me as quite hopeless to debate, because arguments rarely get past the definitional stages.

Sean's essay -- and the topic of Japanese homosexuality -- reminded me that there is a culture war within a culture war, and I can't think of a more classic illustration than the debate over "outing." Gay Patriot does an excellent job of stating the case (and explaining this predicament):

....I reminded myself that this was the reason I started the blog in September: to shine the light on this despicable and anti-gay 'outing' campaign against supposed closeted gays in an around the Federal Government.

Now at first glance it may seem strange for me to label this outing effort as "anti-gay." But all you have to do is read the vitriolic and slimy attacks by Michael Rogers and his ilk on actual gay Americans. They make Pat Robertson and Tom DeLay actually seem pro-gay in their statements. Rogers is insulting, invasive and bases most of his "exclusives" on innuendo and zero evidence.

But let them go on, I say. The Left and especially the Gay Left just don't "get" America. So let them continue with their vicious campaigns of hate. What I have a problem with is how the "mainstream gay leaders" (if there are really any) is letting this happen to gay Americans who could have a positive influence on the Republican Party.

That being said, I have no bloody clue if Ken Mehlman is or isn't gay. Damn, you know the son of a gun might be STRAIGHT! Horrors! The bottom line is no one cares. He is good at his job, and that is why he may be named the RNC Chairman.

Shouldn't Log Cabin, the TskForce (spelling error done on purpose), and HRC be HAPPY that a gay man, closeted or not, could be the head of a national political party? But the fact is the gay 'leaders' have no interest in a true grassroots political education strategy that includes Republicans and Democrats -- they just want to elect Democrats who are out of step with the majority of America.

It is increasingly clear to me that the gay community and its band of radicals are obsessed with being openly gay above all other factors. Never mind if a person is good or bad at their job, if they are a heroic fireman, policeman or member of the Armed Forces. If they are openly and flamboyantly gay... that's universally good. If they are a closet gay, straight and/or especially a Christian, they must be evil and bad.

I think the real problem that the Gay Left has with gay Republicans is that we are comfortable being part of the true American mainstream. We do our jobs, pay our taxes, live in peace, and don't buy into the radical leftist gay agenda. And most of us are "out" to our families, our bosses and our co-workers. And most don't care. We have gotten past the hate that consumes the gay activists. And we are proud, successful and active citizens. But our core being doesn't rise and fall over the fact that we are gay.

Michael Rogers, John Aravosis, and Michael Signorile and those spearheading the outing campaign have indeed become the Left's equivalent of Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell and James Dobson. Their entire lives are based on group victimization, succededing only when others fail and are hurt, demonizing individual Americans, and stereotyping gays. How ironic.

How ironic, indeed. "Outings" are what happen when the forces of guilt and shame join in an unholy alliance. An all out, invasive assault on personal privacy where no one is left alone, everyone is forced to take sides, and an inquisitorial mood prevails.

But please bear in mind that this discussion of guilt and shame is by no means limited to (or necessarily about) homosexuality. It's just that the latter is an easier topic for most people to understand, because guilt and shame are so commonly -- and obviously -- associated with homosexuality. Less obvious (but more common) are the deliberate attempts to utilize shame and guilt to manipulate people as in the recent examples of oiled geese. Americans feel guilty for a variety of reasons, and ever since I was a child I have seen constant attempts by authority figures to harness this guilt by blatant attempts to shame them. When I was a kid it was usually associated with religion, being scolded in church about poor people starving, and often this would make its way to family dinner tables. As the civil rights movement came into its own, politics and religion tended to merge, and the country saw religious leaders being beaten and arrested as they attempted to introduce a new form of shame to the Old South. Naturally, the Old South didn't like being shamed on national television, and the irony was that the South (which I repeatedly visited as a boy in the mid 1960s) was more of a shame-based culture than the largely guilt-based North.

This cultural irony was compounded by the uncomfortable fact that the South, while officially segregated, was in practice more integrated than the North! I know this sounds crazy, but I saw it firsthand. In the North, black people were pretty much restricted to black neighborhoods, and if they strayed out of them, they'd be stopped by police, and were often attacked by lower class whites. If black homebuyers managed to buy a home in a working class white neighborhood, there'd be a mass exodus of whites (a phenomenon called "block busting" by the greedy realtors who'd swoop in).

In the South, there were rituals and rules about what was allowed and not allowed, but there was more actual interaction and less ghettoization. Blacks and whites could talk and socialize in ways that they could not in the North. Please bear in mind I'm not defending this, just reflecting on its cultural aspects.

It was all too easy for Northern liberals to call attention to the South's obvious, ugly, shame based features like the segregated drinking fountains, lunch counters, and rear bus sections. But in reality, well-off Northerners wouldn't have known what to do with a segregated drinking fountain, as no one would have used it! Blacks didn't venture into white neighborhoods and vice versa. Integration was something to be imposed upon other people -- the "bigots" in the South.

"Up here" in the North we don't have things like "colored" bathrooms! (Yeah, and if a black man came into your nice lily white office building you'd call the cops and he'd be hurried out if not arrested for vagrancy!)

Ditto for integrated schools. These were for anyone's kids but those of the affluent blue staters! Schools in the North were segregated not by official policy, but by neighborhood, and money.

All of this led to a North which felt guilty trying to shame a South which appeared to be more guilty, but which felt less guilty. While that battle has been largely over for decades, whether American culture is based more on guilt or more on shame is far from settled.

Plenty of people around here felt guilty when oil was spilled in the Delaware River, and their kneejerk reaction was to shame as many people as they could. Considering that it's rather hard to shame a Cypriot shipping company which didn't want to lose money or oil in the first place, they used the Philadelphia Inquirer to slam SUV owners, to make everyone feel terrible about oiled geese, and to upset as many children as possible.


More harm to the local economy than would have been caused by the spill alone, with shippers rerouting their tankers elsewhere. (A small price to pay if we can transform children into shame-based environmental activists!)

In Japan, the captain would simply have committed suicide.

UPDATE: In a related post, Andrew Sullivan sees a parallel between the Old South's treatment of blacks and the "cordial" treatment of gays by the "Republican right."

Relations between many blacks and whites were often cordial; and the cordiality depended on the implicit acknowledgment of one group's inferiority to the other. Essentially, the position of the Republican right is now identical on the matter of homosexuals. The Bush line, essentially is: "We are not homophobes; we are happy yo live alongside gay people, as long as they recognize that they can never have the same civil rights as we do. Accept your own inferiority, and we will accept you."
He's right that politeness, while important, is not everything. But I've seen from personal experience that Democrats are less tolerant of dissent -- and far less polite to dissenting gays -- than are Republicans. (Also, opposition to gay marriage is by no means limited to the "Republican right"; those state initiatives passed by substantial margins in eleven states.)

Sean Kinsell adds (in a comment):

I just can't see the "civil rights" line of argument as anything but a desire to coerce people into postures of approval, and the comments Sullivan has appended to that e-mail do nothing to change my mind.
Try as I might, I can't see marriage licenses as being indicia of full citizenship.

posted by Eric on 12.03.04 at 07:57 AM


Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Spreading troubled oil on troubled waters . . .:

» "The forces of guilt and shame join in an unholy alliance" from Pajama Pundits
Imagine you are in an English class. Imagine your assignment is to write a cohesive essay including homosexuality in Japan, shame, outing gay Republicans, oiled geese, the Old South, guilt, racism, and civil rights. Imagine you could do it this [Read More]
Tracked on December 5, 2004 10:35 AM
» Carnival of the Vanities #116 from The Big Picture

I've really enjoyed assembling this week's COTV. I received many submissions from blogs I read regularly, as well as from sites that were new to me and which I look forward to visiting again. Herewith, now… the 116th CARNIVAL OF THE...

[Read More]
Tracked on December 8, 2004 3:35 AM


"The Troubled Waters of Evolution" ha! ha!

I'm trying to analyze this. Hmmm.... I'm trying to block out these various regions of the United States.

There's the "South", i.e., the Southeast. Seems to be divided into the original Tidewater area (Virginia, Georgia, the Carolinas), the Tennessee-Kentucky area (where good ol' Rev. Zeke got his start), and the "Deep South", or Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana (largely French in its heritage), Arkansas. Interesting area. Has a lot of history. Gave us Thomas Jefferson and Jefferson Davis. Agrarian, quasi-feudal, poetic, yet also the land of slavery, secession, segregation, and "sodomy" laws (though those laws existed up North, too, in Michigan and Idaho).

The "North" or "East Coast" or Northeast, the side that won the aforementioned Civil War. Again, includes both New England (Vermont -- where lives Jeff Soyer!, New Hampshire, Maine, etc.) and the extremely densely-packed strip of cities from Boston to Washington, including Philadelphia, and centering on New York City. I always associate New York City with the Jewish people, and with Ayn Rand. And Wanda....

The Great Lakes area (Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Minnessota, etc.) is another interesting area of "the North". Illinois, Lincoln's state, was the first state to repeal "sodomy" laws. Dean Esmay and his friends such as Arnold Harris of Mount Horeb, Wisconsin, and Casey Tompkins in Ohio,, seem to be clustered around that area.

The Great Plains of the Midwest (Kansas, Nebraska, etc.). The Rocky Mountain states such as Colorado and Utah. That cold, thinly-populated bloc of states in the Far North: South and North Dakota, Wyoming, Montana. Dawn and Norma now dominate those 4 states....

Texas was part of the Confederacy, but seems to be a distinctive region all by itself, has its own history and heritage. West of Texas is the Southwest, one of my favorite of America's areas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, all the way to California. The landcape there is unique, something there is about it that seems specially encouraging to an individualist attitude. Historically largely Republican, I associate the Southwest with Goldwater. Dawn and Norma have influence there as well.... The Starr Tower....

The West Coast is my homeland, the West Coast is where I'll take my stand, where I was born and where I'll live and die. California, Oregon, Washington, I've lived in each of three states for many years. Born in Washington where lives all of my extended family, grew up in Oregon, lived in California for many years, and now back in Washington.

California is the most populated state in the Union, and one of the most diverse and divided. It seems to have a lot of "Pinks", yet it also has had a fair number of Birchers, too, and it also gave us Nixon and then Reagan. It's a fircely contested state, a lot goes on there. Wicked Wanda and her women live there, and so do holy Dawn and her holy Negro wife Norma....

The West Coast faces the Pacific, and out beyond there are Alaska up in the Far North, and the Far Western Islands of Hawaii. I have a book on Hawaiian mythology. Dawn and Norma are now dominating those two states.... Western Islands....

There's one and only one thing that still holds all these divergent regions (which in any other part of the world would long ago have been separate, perhaps warring, nations) together, and good old Mr. Bricker will be glad to tell you all about it: the Constitution!

This distinction between "shame cultures" and "guilt cultures" reminds me of Spengler's polarity between the warrior ethic vs. the priestly ethic. The South, historically, was an aristocratic culture, while the culture of New England was deeply religious and steeped in a sense of Original Sin. The Abolitionists such as William Lloyd Garrison and John Brown were intensely religious.

To put it another way, I have for some time thought that the North and the South, in their origins, embodied what many historians have seen as the two strains in the West, i.e., the Hebraic and the Hellenic, respectively.

Actually it is not quite over.

We still have gun control laws and drug laws which are a remnant of the earlier official open racism.

These things are so accepted that people neither remember nor are they taught the roots of these policies.

M. Simon   ·  December 6, 2004 2:10 PM

Interesting thoughts. My own observations of the attitudes of Southerners towards homosexuality is consistent with your description of "shame-based" cultures. Especially before the rise of open gay communities in big cities (most notably in Atlanta) it was common to find a few gay people in small cities and towns. Everybody in town knew they were gay, but it was never a big deal as long as they kept it to themselves. I can think of at least three examples from the church I grew up in, and have seen it in other communities I have lived in or visited. Often they were valued members of the community -- church organists or schoolteachers or florist or such. Even though their neighbors would not hesitate to call homosexuality sinful, they generally could not bring themselves to ostracize the sinner.

This arrangement surely had its drawbacks from the contemporary gay perspective -- toleration would surely have ceased had anyone exalted his homosexuality or attempted to set it up as an alternative norm -- but as you noted, there are certain advantages. A healthy realism about human nature is one of them. It suggests an acceptance that everybody has something to be ashamed of, that we are all involved in some quiet, personal struggle.

Anyway, it's no accident that the second-most popular sport in the tee-totaling Baptist regions of the South is one that was originated by moonshiners running from the revenue police.

Your comment about tolerance from the left and the right also conforms with personal experience. I am by conviction an evangelical Christian; I also am exclusively attracted to my own sex. Although these two aspects of my identity are in complete tension (I can't buy the arguments that the Bible doesn't really condemn homosexual practice), I still find it impossible to exorcise one or the other. This tension can make life unpleasant at times. In the midst of that struggle, I find that my conservative Christian friends are much more willing to accept me as a gay man than my gay acquaintances are willing to accept me as a Christian. Both sides, of course, would love to see me change . . .

Chuck   ·  December 8, 2004 3:54 PM

April 2011
Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
          1 2
3 4 5 6 7 8 9
10 11 12 13 14 15 16
17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30


Search the Site


Classics To Go

Classical Values PDA Link


Recent Entries


Site Credits