Friday, September 29, 2006

Honor-Shame Culture

Here's a good elucidation of what Honor-Shame culture is and how it operates in humans in general and the Muslim world in particular, from Augean Stables.

Some salient points:

Shame-oriented societies and guilt-oriented societies differ primarily in where the locus of "badness" lies. In guilt-oriented cultures, such as the modern West, if you have done something bad, you should be ashamed regardless of whether your bad deed is known. In shame-oriented cultures, you're bad only when others think you're bad. If you commited the bad act but were not caught, you're OK; if you didn't commit the bad act but people think you did, you're shamed.

"[T]he desire to preserve honor and avoid shame to the exclusion of all else is one of the primary foundations of the culture. This desire has the side-effect of giving the individual carte blanche to engage in wrong-doing as long as no-one knows about it, or knows he is involved.

"Additionally, it may be impossible for an individual to even admit to himself that he is guilty (even when he is) particularly when everyone else considers him to be guilty because of the shame involved. As long as others remain convinced he is innocent, the individuals does not experience either guilt or shame. A great deal of effort therefore goes into making sure that others are convinced of your innocence (even if you are guilty)." --Dr. Sanity

"The Arab world is suffering a crisis of humiliation. Their armies are routed not only by Americans, but also by tiny, Jewish Israel; and as Arthur Koestler once remarked, the Arab world has not, in the last 500 years or so, produced much besides rugs, dirty postcards, elaborations on the belly-dance esthetic (and, of course, some innovative terrorist practices). They have no science to speak of, no art, hardly any industry save oil, very little literature, and portentous music which consists largely of lugubrious songs celebrating the slaughter of Jews." -- David Gutmann

"Besides sharpening their sense of inferiority relative to the West, modernization threatens to bring about the liberation of women (as in Afghanistan and Iraq). I say 'threatens,' because the self-esteem of Arab males is in large part predicated on the inferior position of their women. The Arab nations have for the most part lost their slaves and dhimmis, the subject peoples onto whose persons the stigmata of shame could be downloaded. But anyone who has spent time among them knows that Arab males have not lost their psychological need for social and sexual inferiors. In the absence of slaves and captive peoples, Arab women are elected for the special role of the inferior who, by definition, lacks honor. Arab men eradicate shame and bolster their shaky self-esteem by imposing the shameful qualities of the dhimmi, submission and passivity, upon women. Trailing a humbled woman behind them, Arab men can walk the walk of the true macho man." -- Gutmann

"In regard to military history, the Arab's preference for guerrilla over conventional war reflects a long tradition, one that began in antiquity, with the Bedouin raiders. Their way of war -- brilliantly described by T.E. Lawrence in The Seven Pillars of Wisdom –- is based on hit-and-run forays by camel-mounted Bedouin who appear suddenly out of the desert, tear up an unsuspecting enemy camp, and then disappear back into the waste, carrying 'honorable' loot: thoroughbred horses, camels and women." -- Gutmann

"The traditional Bedouin created a nearly pure 'Shame' culture, whose goal was to avoid humiliation, and to acquire sharraf -- honor. Thus, the goal of the Bedouin raid is not to finally win a war, for such inter-tribal conflict is part of the honorable way of life, and should never really end. The essential goals of the raid are to take wealth –- not only in goods, but also in honor -- and to impose shame on the enemy. Any opponent worth fighting is by definition honorable, and pieces of his honor can be ripped from him in a successful raid, to be replaced by figments of the attacker's shame. The successful attacker has 'exported' some personal shame to the enemy, and the enemy's lost honor has been added to the raider's store." -- Gutmann

In other words, one can interpret the 9-11 attacks as a way to humiliate the US and to bolster Islamic honor. Seen in context with the fall of the Soviet Union and the jihadis' claim to have caused it (see previous post), waging a war, even a losing war, against the Great Satan or the Little Satan, is sufficient to claim lost honor as long as your opponent loses something. Which is why Hezbollah claimed victory against the Israelis, even though Hezbollah lost more people. They drew blood, which is enough.

And how is this sense of shame instilled in every member of a culture? Simple: you humiliate your children by physically and psychologically abusing them, which, as it turns out is the default condition of human society, not the exception. Robert Godwin explores the primordial urge to abuse and even sacrifice children, and how the story of Abraham and Isaac represents the break with that abhorrent practice in this post from last July.

However, having said all that, I can't help but notice that the current jihad is about much more than stealing tidbits of honor from the West, here a little and there a little. Surely, there is some of that going on. But there's more to it: there's an element of the rawest ambition present, a desire not to draw blood from your enemy, but to fully dominate or, failing that, to annihilate him. Is this merely a desire to restore honor? Or is this the same ambition that has fueled tyrants' dreams from Alexander to Ghengis Khan to Hitler?

I'm guessing the latter is predominant, but you can't underestimate the Muslim Shame dynamic in its ability to animate, recruit, and mobilize individuals whose Shame at being outdone by the infidel must be expunged at any cost.


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