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+2 votes
shame: a feeling which is difficult to define, similar to embarrassment, but can feel like a deeply defeated depressing sensation

guilt: pretty much the same feeling as shame, but with a more blaming, moralistic, type of connotation...."YOU are that THINGY that is BAD!"

many anarchists have written about how "social conventions" or customs would be the replacement for the rule of law in regulating relationships, and some have blatantly talked about using shaming (one example, in the book "anarchy works" peter gelderlooz talks about collectively giving weird looks to people who don't take out their trash in a hypothetical anarchist community...which to me sounds really hilarious!)

while im open to this as a possibility, im also very skeptical, because in a sense it's the same as intimidation, which is a charished tactic used by authoritarians for many generations. Feeling "ashamed" of oneself can be described as being afraid of a part of oneself...certainly doesn't seem compitible with healthy human relationships.

now what do YOU, that fleshy thingy that sits behind the computer..."think"?
I completely disagree with your definitions of shame and guilt. The disagreement may be unresolvable since it involves our internal states, but it's obviously critical to answering this question.

To me guilt is a personal emotion that we find in ourselves, totally separated from the blaming and social implications you see in it. A single person, alone in the world, could feel guilt for hurting an animal.

Shame seems much more social because we can't feel it unless someone else knows about what we did. I think of it as based on a comparison to others rather than comparison to our own ideals.

I also disagree with the association you're drawing between guilt/shame and sadness/depression. Those are different emotions. Some people may feel sadness as a result of guilt and I guess I do think that at least a small amount of sadness must accompany it, but not that that should be the overwhelming or defining part of our response. I feel inspired by my guilt because I know it means that I can do better.
in my opinion, shame is more along the lines of when one feels disappointed with themselves. Guilt on the other hand, is more along the lines of feeling culpable for some action or feel responsible for doing something one regrets. So it's a who am I vs what I did.

It depends on the situation, but things like publicly humiliating/shaming somewhat in the authoritarian area as it's an attempt to control the individual's behavior or get them to comply. Personally, I think shaming someone would just lead to conflict down the road. To make one feel guilty about something they did, the individual would probably also need to feel that they did something wrong. If they don't feel they did anything wrong, guilting them probably won't really do anything.
i look at guilt and shame as abstract thoughts that tend to fill up the present moment with judgments (like i "shouldn't" have done this or that) of past thoughts or action...which can in turn lead one to feel any number of things.

like funky's answer below, i don't personally find any use for looking at things that way. i can't recall thinking of in terms of "guilty" or "shameful" in many years.
hmmmm....while i still feel "shame" at times i feel like i've rid myself of guilt, it's a foreign concept to me, it really doesn't exist, it's  reification that comes from the most blatant religious/court system stupidity. I like understanding these things through and through which i why i post such personal shit

@sweater fish: i talk about depression because i feel both terms imply a dropping of the head, a feeling of DEFEAT, however it doesn't have to be confined to that, shame can take the form of anger with oneself. When you talk about feeling good about guilt it sounds to me like your talking about either something completely different or there's a mixture of some complex things going on there that i can't really understand
I didn't say guilt makes me feel good. I said it inspires me.

The death of a close friend can inspire you to live your life closer to your ideals as well, but that doesn't mean his death made you feel good.
what does guilt "feel" like? what does feeling "good" or "bad" mean? perhaps we all mean different things by all these words, and one can only come so close to understanding what another means by them, especially when you can't look into the other person's eyes.
Granted, but I don't think that means we shouldn't try.

For one thing, this is a problem with all communication, not just communication about emotion. I think there's especially huge gains to be made by honest attempts to understand the emotional worlds of other people, though. We will never be successful, but each insight carries major significance.

In my opinion, the best way to proceed is by examples and comparisons.
i agree with you, SF, about the examples (or sharing a personal story or experience)....because if someone asks me if i feel "guilt" or "shame", i'd say no straight away.
agreed sf, the seperate togetherness people tend to feel in our society is something that really irritates me

2 Answers

+5 votes
i personally find shame and guilt largely useless emotions. not that i am completely free of either, needless to say.

however, if they are in fact real, authentic human emotions (for some, if not all) that would be present even outside the horror that is modern mass society, then i would think they will absolutely be a part of individual human relations regardless of the social structure (or lack thereof).

so the question of "should" becomes one of mere personal feelings, desires, ethics, etc - and of course the context of the relationship in question.

whether these emotions are used in manipulative and controlling ways is always going to depend on the situation and the specific relationship and dynamic in question. which is no different from any other human emotion, really.

i personally would not use those emotions (other than in humor) with others that i am in friendly relationship with. but i doubt i would hesitate to use them with someone i saw as an adversary of some sort, if i saw the opportunity and it made strategic (or tactical) sense. but that's me, mr. context.

[not sure if this should be a comment instead of an answer?]
by (12.9k points)
seems enough like an answer to me :)

ultimately it's a question of distance you put between the people you interact with, which is the question i have for you about using it with friends...can shame and guilt really have some sort of usefulness as a shared emotion? Typically a guiltor is putting some of their own shame on the guiltee
usefulness as a shared emotion... hmmm.... could you elaborate on that idea?
lol just forget it wasn't really thinking when i wrote that
+4 votes

In my experience shame and guilt are not good motivators, on the contrary, they're paralyzing. When people are made to feel ashamed or guilty they rarely 'fess up' and go along with whatever demands are being made of them (I've only known this to happen among extremely close friends); more often they feel cornered, singled-out, attacked and get defensive. So unless the person in question is an adversary in such a situation as funky outlined, shame and guilt aren't constructive tools to use, they just amplify and emotionally deepen conflict.

To be honest, the example thought up by Peter Gelderlooz doesn't sound like an example of anarchy working, it sounds like childish collective passive aggressive bullying, albeit in a humorously whimsical form. I think rick hit the nail on the head here, relationships built on manipulating people through shame aren't healthy, and are too close to outright intimidation for comfort. If you want someone to take out the trash, ask them to take out the goddamn trash.

by (6.3k points)
reshown by
point clarified, thanks. i can definitely see (and agree with) the problem of over-emphasis, especially as rhetoric in certain milieus. and there are no doubt alternative approaches to problem solving (games, role-playing, etc), but i would think that some sort of clear communication would have to precede that to clarify intent, approach, etc. unless, of course, the parties involved have a sufficiently - and mutually - understood way of relating as to make that preceding communication unnecessary.

i'd be interested in hearing what alternatives you have in mind for problem solving, if any.

i certainly don't see clear communication as some panacea for solving all kinds of problems between all kinds of individuals. i guess i see it as the best tool i am aware of, at least as a starting point (for problem solving).
dot, you're right to emphasize that communication isn't a solution in and of itself, I often feel like a lot of time is spent, both in mainstream politics and in anarchist discourse glossing over the fact that we are humans and we sometimes have irreconcilable differences and conflicts (and far more often have conflicts that take more than just talking to resolve). Asking someone to take out the trash isn't the end of the problem solving process, it's the beginning.  

Your point about culture is one that I'm intimately acquainted with - I live in a reserved culture that makes extensive use of subtle euphemisms, innuendo, implication and inference in verbal communication. It's a culture where many (not all, but many) people will expect you to know what do to, and expect you to do it, and if you don't they'll stew in their own frustration and resentment getting endlessly more bitter, but they won't confront you because confrontation is a bit of a social taboo. I've seen this happen in all kinds of social groups (families, religious groups, housemates etc etc), among all social classes, throughout my life; it can get really ugly, and it's just unnecessary. There comes a point in some cases where 'culture' is just a spook, when it stops you from taking concrete steps towards getting what you want for fear of violating a social taboo.


Bit of a tangent there I guess. Anyway, the main point I wanted to make with my answer is that shaming and guilting people is fucking stupid if you don't want to inflict pain on them, it sours relationships, often permanently, and to use it as a tool on people for something so trivial as getting them to take out the trash as Peter Gelderlooz suggested in the example that rick mentioned in the question details just seems utterly insane and completely detached from real life, and from imagining people as people that it shocked me.


I guess a more challenging example would be should shame and guilt be used in the aftermath of, or to prevent things like rape and murder? Is shame and guilt useful for preventing things like rape and murder?

For what it's worth the wording I'd be the least uncomfortable with would be something like 'where should guilt and shame come into play in cases of serious harm to someone's person, such as rape and murder, if at all?'

idk, I'm rambling now.
awesome and totally on-point ramblings. my favorite kind.

i'll just briefly say that i am someone who also prefers direct clear communication (more than is appropriate, as people might tell you), but i recognize from my own life that sometimes what that means (not all the time, but sometimes) is that i'm being lazy or preoccupied (both words that could be euphemisms for not-willing-to-give-attention-to-the-given-person-in-that-moment). in a world where we learned better techniques for interacting, maybe it would be clearer that i could just say that, instead of putting the onus on the other person to spell shit out for me.

gdmt. this got longer than i wanted it to. i guess it's a compelling topic for me :)
@dot: agreed, a compelling topic to me too.

@yosemite: you touched on a very relevant point in the discussion of communication and its usefulness: conflict, and how people deal with it.

you say in the culture you live in confrontation is a social taboo. indeed it appears that way to me most everywhere i have experienced. and when that is not the norm, instead it is the binary opposite: a confrontational way of being/communicating takes the behavioral lead. although i don't tend to be a particularly confrontational type person, i think i prefer that approach in general. but most often i find that it too is not very productive. at least towards my own objectives.

ultimately, and i think you have both touched on this point, sometimes problems just don't get "resolved". that is a reality of life, and if more folks could simply accept that, i think there'd be much less unnecessary conflict. but alas, binary thinking pervades.
and to bring my thinking back to the original topic:

yosemite: "...the main point I wanted to make with my answer is that shaming and guilting people is fucking stupid if you don't want to inflict pain on them, it sours relationships, often permanently, and to use it as a tool on people for something so trivial as getting them to take out the trash as Peter Gelderlooz suggested in the example that rick mentioned in the question details just seems utterly insane and completely detached from real life, and from imagining people as people that it shocked me."

well said. that pretty much sums up my thoughts on it as well.