December 29, 2010

Taboos Are The Ways Christians Try To Control Us

if I told you the A stood for adulteress, would that turn you off?  My husband said the same thing

Of the many emails I received about the taboos post, only a handful were not of the form, "you are a right wing Rush Limbaugh douchebag."  Wrong at least two times.  You fail.

Here was one of the nicer ones:

So, you're saying to not publicize all your wrong-doings, because there are small pockets of people to support you, no matter what you've done.  But, you seem to love Tucker Max (or at least his jokes?) who has basically done that for his ENTIRE life. What gives? 

The person who wrote that is a woman in the sciences whom I've emailed a few times, i.e. if she misunderstood the post, it was my fault.  So:

So, anywhere you can get support, including the NYT, by all means go.  This isn't about getting support, and these individuals aren't getting support. They don't care what you think.  That's not what they're doing.

You don't need me to tell you what's right and wrong and anyway I'm hardly an expert on morality.  But what I am an expert in is the psychological tricks we play, and their consequences to you.  You may be able to live with the consequences, but they exist nonetheless. 

Guilt, unlike shame, was always about You vs. Yourself.  But what's changed is that You-- the guilty party-- has found a loophole in the system.  That loophole hurts everyone.


What did Epstein do wrong?  Incest and infidelity.   He did both, right?   What's happened in the press?  The incest's severity has completely erased the infidelity.  At no time does Epstein have to confront the internal guilt of infidelity, because he's battling an incest charge.  I don't mean publicly-- I mean privately, he never faces himself about infidelity, only incest.

Now incest-- terrible, we all agree, but should the law really be monitoring the sex lives of consenting adults?  Of course not.  "Incest is wrong," I might say, "but we have no business policing it."  What just happened there is that "Epstein" has managed to get me to partially support him.  I may hate him, but irrelevant- "he" interprets my partial support as part of a global judgment of him, and thus has mitigated his guilt by converting it to shame, and the shame is lessened because some people are partially supportive.

I realize that HE didn't do this on purpose or consciously (though his lawyer is), and HE does not care about my support.  But it happened nonetheless.  That's the whole point of the media's involvement, our generational solution to the problem of guilt.  This is what we will all be doing, the internet as confessional and for the remission of sins.  Whether we do it on purpose or not, once a private guilt that (should) gnaw at you gets exposed as a public shame, and the public/whatever newspaper you have at your disposal/your facebook friends/etc start taking sides, that internal guilt is obliterated.  Epstein still has to deal with the shame and social and legal repercussions, but not guilt.

What's the result? The result for Epstein isn't my interest, it's his life and it's not my right to keep his guilt alive for him.   But now, FOR SURE, incest is no longer a taboo, it is no longer a matter of guilt, but of shame.  Everyone is free to decide whether they can take the shame; everyone has become a Nietzschean superman, deciding for themselves if there are any taboos. Which, of course they were always free to do-- but they had the good sense not to try.  Now it is possible to ask "am I free to have consensual sex with my adult daughter?" -- which, of course, you are free to do, and which, of course, you are never free to do.  It's that simple.

Do you think it's a coincidence that 2010 had three big adult incest stories, but 2009 had none? They were occurring in 2009, but the gates of that taboo have lost their sentry: guilt.  So now incest is a matter of shame, not guilt.  If you can take the shame and your daughter's hot, enjoy.

Many in the comments accused me of being an old codger, a "these kids today are immoral" uptight Rush Limbaughlite.  If you think that, you're missing something truly important: these aren't kids.  These are middle aged professionals who have kids.  I expect-- want--  a little Nietzsche in the 20 somethings of the world, to fuel them to do something with their lives.  But these are people who should know better.  Instead, they've convinced themselves, after 4 decades of life, that they deserve to be happy, that their happiness is more important than anything.

I'm not free of guilt.  But the difference is that whatever guilt I have I don't let infect other people. If I am incesting or cheating on my spouse, I would still have the human decency NOT to try and publicly mitigate that guilt by conversion to shame because I know that if I succeed then it becomes okay for someone else. I may have the "right" to do whatever I want, but do I have the right to make it okay for others?   How I deal with guilt has an effect on how someone else will.   What could I ever say to console my daughter if her husband cheats on her, when I'm in the NYT  saying cheating is a matter of "finding a soul mate?"

Every one of our actions has a blast radius, and there are other people in it.  KABOOM.  Count the bodies.


Would you trust Epstein or Tucker Max to babysit your five year old daughter?  It's not an idle question, there will come a day where you will be asked to choose between X or Y and without any kind of architecture to guide you you will choose what my idiot generation has chosen, which is to choose nothing-- "I'm not letting my child out of my sight"  and you'll end up like those parents at the park who use their kids as human shields to avoid connecting with any other parent.  Result?  Your kid doesn't get kidnapped by the Unabomber but he has learned you think all people are evil.  Enjoy their adolescence.

"Not a fair comparison, Blackbeard, we're talking about consenting adults.  Who would you trust to chaperone your 24 year old wife, Epstein or Tucker Max?"  That question is a lie.  That question really worries about who would be more successful with your 24 year old wife, and of course that's not a comment on their trustworthiness but on your wife's.  If she can't keep some alternative penis out of her vagina then the problem isn't the penises. 

But to answer the question, of course I would trust Tucker Max more because I have a sense Max's limits are at X point-- has he slept with all his friends' wives?  has he cheated on his wife? (1) -- and David Epstein's limits are only his own physical limitations.  Nothing but the law contains Epstein, which is not any kind of containment.   If I'm right he does not feel guilt-- that means anything, including eating a baby, is possible.  "Are you saying he'd eat a baby?"  No.  But what's stopping him?


There are a few people commenting who doubt the relevance of guilt, or the need for it; who openly decry it as a tool of the Christians or the establishment as a means of social control.  I haven't tracked the IP addresses, but I'd wager big money that those are the same people who want to think Goldman Sachs is evil.

I'd also wager gigantic money that none of these people are carrying around any terrible  secrets.  None of you supporting Epstein are in the market for adult incest.

What infuriates you is the idea that anyone or anything has control over us.  You don't like to be told they aren't allowed to do something.   "As long as it doesn't hurt anybody, I should be allowed..."  You want complete freedom-- which you will use to conform to very ordinary standards of living that you impose on yourself. 

But this isn't a moral issue that I am describing, it is an architectural problem: the very thing that allows you to exist in a world of complete freedom is those internal controls and not the social controls-- laws and shames-- that you think bind you.

Shame will never be enough--  when your identity is "strong" enough nothing shames you, not a sex tape or a prison term, you'll take that scarlet letter and put it on a tight tank top and wear it ironically, not to mention hotly.

The laws will never be stronger than you.  Wall Street may need more regulation but it won't reduce the corruption at all.  If they want to find a way around the law, they will.  Always.  The more laws you have, the less relevant guilt becomes.    The laws are exactly the same mechanism as Epstein's shaming: externalizing the rule affords you the opportunity to explore the grey areas.  The only thing that will stop corruption is people not wanting to be corrupt.

The new factor is our access to the media, our connectivity.  No matter how hard you try, it is impossible to completely block out the judgment of others-- and you won't want to if that judgment is to your benefit. 

I am not trying to stop progress or technology, I'm telling you to be careful with your lives.  Riddell and Epstein may have dodged huge psychological bullets, but those bullets hit the rest of us right in the face.


1.  Maybe this isn't the place for a textual analysis of I Hope The Serve Beer In Hell, but he's not so much disrespectful to women as a master of a kind of dialogue with them, one that both of them are completely aware of. 

"You're a slut." 
"No I'm not! and I'll prove it by sleeping with you." 
"Whatever.  Let me get my coat."

At least within these kinds of interactions, labeling him "disrespectful" or "sexist" misses the woman's active participation in this kind of dialogue.  It's a game, she knows it's a game, she's seen this game before, and she wants to play that game.  Interestingly, it's probably correct to say that your missing the woman's active role in the game reveals an implicit assumption of male dominance in social interactions, i.e. you're kind of a sexist.