From Norbert Elias’ The Civilizing Process. Useful re: group functioning and individual psychological processes of shame. Apologies for the gender exclusive pronouns.
The feeling of shame is a specific excitation, a kind of anxiety which is automatically reproduced in the individual on certain occasions by force of habit. Considered superficially, it is fear of social degradation or, more generally, of other people’s gestures of superiority. But it is a form of displeasure or fear which arises characteristically on those occasions when a person who fears lapsing into inferiority can avert this danger neither by direct physical means nor by any other form of attack. This defencelessness against the superiority of others, this total exposure to them does not arise directly from a threat from the physical superiority of others actually present, although it doubtless has its origins in physical compulsion, in the bodily inferiority of the child in face of its parents or teachers. In adults, however, this defencelessness results from the fact that the people whose superiority one fears are in accord with one’s own super-ego, with the agency of self-constraint implanted in the individual by others on whom he was dependent, who possessed power and superiority over him. In keeping with this, the anxiety that we call “shame” is heavily veiled to the sight of others; however strong it may be, it is never directly expressed in noisy gestures. Shame takes on its particular coloration from the fact that the person feeling it has done or is about to do something through which he comes into contradiction with people to whom he is bound in one form or another, and with himself, with the sector of his consciousness by which he controls himself. The conflict expressed in shame-fear is not merely a conflict of the individual with prevalent social opinion; the individual’s behavior has brought him into conflict with the part of himself that represents this social opinion. It is a conflict within his own personality; he himself recognizes himself as inferior. He fears the loss of the love or respect of others, to which he attaches or has attached value. Their attitude has precipitated an attitude within him that he automatically adopts towards himself. This is what makes him so defenceless against gestures of superiority by others which somehow trigger off this automatism within him.
You cannot take even one breath without manipulating the common fabric of material existence. Everything manipulates everything else. Every action shifts the ground upon which everything else is built. There is no such thing as a fully autonomous project. The question is not whether but how to manipulate. How will you step into responsibility to consciously intervene for the common good? You did not make the world that you were born into, but now you are among its living makers. You are part of the social fabric. Yet you have agency to alter its shape. It is folly to feign or seek purity or neutrality; to pretend that you can somehow become separate from—uncontaminated by—the sins of society, structures, or the state. Do not run for the hills. Instead, study the apocalypse, map its terrain, and plan your intervention. It is selfish to jump ship when there are not enough lifeboats for everyone. We must conspire to take the helm.
Students for a Democratic Society’s 1962 Port Huron Statement begins with these words: “We are people of this generation…”
During a public messaging training that I recently led for a student group, I reflected back to the group my observation that members often referred to themselves as activists — in both internal conversations and external messages. I asked them what purpose it served to label themselves as activists as opposed to students.
Students for Democratic Society might have begun their historic Port Huron Statement with, “We are student activists…” But instead they began, “We are people of this generation…”
Interestingly, the label “activist” appears in the over 25,000-word document only once, where it is one label listed amongst several that refer to types of participants in the “broadest movement for peace in several years.”
…it includes socialists, pacifists, liberals, scholars, militant activists, middle-class women, some professionals, many students, a few unionists.
The word “activism” also appears just one time. And here it is fully contextualized:
…the permeating and victimizing fact of human degradation, symbolized by the Southern struggle against racial bigotry, compelled most of us from silence to activism.
And I’m back to posting very rough notes…
(1) Conceptual shift over past half century from civic/political framework to hobby/elective framework (i.e. “activism”). (2) In concert with broader cultural and structural shift away from “the commons”, toward individualism. (3) The implosion and fragmentation of the Left in the early 1970s. (4) Consolidation of radicals across issues. (5) Marriage of radical remnant and counter-culture. (6) Narration of a common radical constellation of shared meanings and reference points. (7) Signaling behavior oriented toward the center of the radical constellation. (8) Alienation of radicals from broader social bases. (9) Normalization, institutionalization, and ritualized performance of this alienation.
Not to mention the role of non-profit organizations in relation to entrepreneurial framework, self-selection, marginal differentiation, and fragmentation.
I recently argued that there is a common thread that connects (1) Marx’s analysis of material world and superstructure, (2) his prediction of the inevitability of communism, and (3) his underdevelopment of subjective political strategy. Now I want to suggest that these three themes are connected to a fourth: Marx’s treatment of the state as an incontestable apparatus.
Marx’s view of the state is complex, inconsistent, and in a process of development over the course of his writing. Above all, though, he sees the state as the bourgeois state. The state emerged to serve the interests of a particular economic class (the bourgeoisie) and it is folly to entertain hope of it serving the proletarian class or ameliorating the inequality, exploitation and suffering caused by capitalism.
To understand this assessment of the state, we must examine Marx’s treatment of bourgeois and proletariat as neatly bounded categories. He details complexities and contradictions within each class, but he mistakenly believes that as capitalism proletarianizes more and more people, their conditions will become increasingly similar and, as a result, proletarians will come to recognize their structural commonality and begin to act self-consciously as a united class. As Cihan Tuğal explained, “The general trend in capitalism, according to Marx, is this increasing simplification of polarized classes. [my notes from a recent talk]” Contra Marx, history has instead shown how capitalism often achieves the opposite: a continuum of stratification within “the proletariat” and between classes, a popular orientation toward upward mobility, and fragmentation of class identity. Read more…