Guilt, Shame and Coercion plus a little Gramsci

Doyle Saylor djsaylor at
Tue Oct 20 22:37:41 PDT 1998

Hello everyone,

Kelley Crouse writes Oct 20/98: Oh great. That's just what I want. People doing things b/c they're afraid of what will happen if they don't, rather than understanding why and making reasoned decisions about doing so.

Doyle This is a call to reason by Kelley. In responding to Nathan, Kelley writes about shame and guilt as tools to work on class consciousness. This was in regard to Michael Yates angrily attacking buying Gallo wines. I think Kelley argues for moral concepts, such as shame, and guilt in contradiction to Reason. Moral concepts are not useful as Marxist concepts. I will write why. But first reason.

Doyle Reason has traditionally been regarded as corrupted by feelings. For instance the cliché example that dogmatism interferes with reason. These assertions arose in the early Enlightenment period. In most cases today, pure reason in the sense of logic is not on peoples mind concerning the left, but recourse to arguments which rely upon careful reason still holds sway even if persons like Kelley rely upon other tools. In this case Kelley uses moral statements which on their face hardly have any connection to reason in the sense of logic. This is so, because if I acted for reasons of shame I clearly would not be just "reasoning", but relying upon my precondition of how I feel about a situation. Whereas the reason is supposed to give choices, and plans in sensory details minus the "bias" of shame and guilt.

Doyle First of all it has to be clear to everyone that feelings cannot be subtracted from human thought without injury to reason. This is provable When the feeling system arising out of the thalamic circuitry at the base of the brain, is cut away from the frontal lobe, most logical responses seem intact, except where the ability to judge ones self interest occur. An example would be that a person no longer can play a card game which requires some foresight, and planning to gain advantage and win by obvious strategies. In other words the ability to evaluate the best path to take is no longer "thinkable". That is why Kelley actually moves directly away from "reason" as an emotion-less approach, to instead use shame and guilt in her response to Nathan since with regard to ordinary human activity, we all so clearly rely upon our feelings to guide our actions. There is a significant problem with Kelley¹s approach.

Doyle We do not think with feelings. So the way Kelley uses the terms shame and guilt she confuses planning and explanations with feelings. Rather I say feelings are experienced as intensities without conscious thought, and conscious thought is applied to feeling to "understand" what feeling means. So shame is a name applied to a feeling, but we don¹t know if Kelley is right to make such a response to Nathan. To be clear, feelings are outside the neo-cortex system where reason occurs, and interacts with reason to supply the means to evaluate plans. Feelings themselves are not reason. Any word like shame is a thought, not a feeling. And Kelley is relying upon reason to describe feelings as a strategy to use either in buying wine, or dealing with working class students.

Doyle Because Kelley is deeply confused about the difference, her assertions give us no idea how to evaluate what Nathan writes about. I will give Kelley¹s responses to demonstrate how confusing it sounds to me:


shame is one of the more effective ways of doing this

On the other hand, of course, going to far in the way you chastise folks and reinforce a new system of social norms may elicit only guilt.

Guilt and shame are two different things..

Doyle We in fact have no idea if guilt and shame refer to two different states of feeling within the brain. It is more likely that feelings are logarithmic scales of response within a neural network to body sensation which interpenetrate frontal lobe, parietal lobe, and temporal areas appropriate to language production, and proprioception. In this sense it does not make one more clear about working class issues that there is a difference between "reason" which Kelley calls for and "shame and guilt" which Kelley uses freely to explain what to do in a strike or boycott. Instead the reference to shame and guilt are not about feelings, but about taking moral stances in the world and using these stances to advance working class interests. Moralism is rightly rejected by Marxist. This is so because we do not want people to as Kelley writes:

Kelley Do you really want people to not cross the picket line because they'll be jeered at or embarrassed and not because they truly understand why it's important?

Doyle Moral stances require intense feelings. Thou shalt not kill. Arithmetic rules and mathematical expression have no comparable moral meaning (though it is clear that mathematicians can feel deeply about math), they are neutral feeling, because moral stances cannot arise from rules which do not cause intense feelings in humans. Moral stances work to the extent they do because we cannot separate feelings from reason. But what Kelley misses is summarizable this way;

Doyle When someone crosses a picket line, or buys against a boycott, we don¹t know if "shame" or a resort to "guilt" will work. We have no "rule" that absolutely tells us that answer. It is a multi-sided community effort in which feelings and reason liberate. Not in a moral sense, because morality is always structured by intense feelings, and expansion of thought is the key to liberation. Intense feelings are leaky, we can move from intense anger to calmness, and re-evaluation and the leak of feelings is what provides a person with access to alternate explanations of Gallo wine. As long as the community does it together we build upon experience and bonds that form without coercion and manipulation downgrading consciousness as intense moral argument must do. Morality requires adherence to rules married to intensities, but rules arise not from intensity, but the expansion of the frontal lobe activity, which in turn requires the lowering of intensity of feeling, just try thinking in a major depression for instance. The words shame and guilt merely describe rules, not feelings, except in so far as an intensity may be observed, since these words are associated with high intensity feelings. Regards, Doyle

Ps Since Nathan replies with considerable detail to Kelley I will turn this same approach to his remarks and see if something new might emerge from his thoughts. -------------- next part -------------- An HTML attachment was scrubbed... URL: <../attachments/19981020/33f6bf04/attachment.htm>

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