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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

An Outline for the Two Plays that May Have Followed Euripides' Hippolytus

Ancient Greek tragedies tended to be written as trilogies with a satyr play. We unfortunately only have one trilogy -- Aeschylus' The Oresteia, which includes Agamemnon, The Libation Bearers, and The Eumenides. However, we know that this structure was common, even if we do not have the complete set for any of the rest of the plays we have.

Thus, we can assume that Euripides' play Hippolytus was one of a trilogy. In fact, we can safely assume it was the first of the series. We can do this because it seems clear that there is nothing that came before which we need to understand, while the end of the play provides a clear indication that Artemis is going to do something to Aphrodite in revenge for what Aphrodite did to Hippolytus.

If we consider the one intact trilogy we have, we can work out what was the likely outcome of the tragedy (if not the final satyr play).

Hippolytus begins with Aphrodite saying she is going to avenge herself on Hippolytus because he disrespects her and curses her. The action of the play is thus caused by Aphrodite's desire for revenge. To accomplish her revenge, she causes Phaedra to fall in love with Hippolytus. Phaedra feels guilty for being in love with Hippolytus, but this guilt is turned into shame when her Nurse, in whom she confides, decides to tell Hippolytus, believing it is better Hippolytus knows than that he doesn't. Of course when Hippolytus learns of Phaedra's feelings, he curses the Nurse for telling him. But the Nurse had wisely asked Hippolytus to keep silent regarding what she was going to tell him, so he will not tell anyone. However, Phaedra is under the impression that he is going to tell her husband, his father, Theseus. The guilt she feels, combined with the shame she feels regarding Hippolytus' knowledge of her feelings, combined with the shame of his rejection, combined with her anger at him for cursing all women leads her to want to avenge herself on Hippolytus. More, she does not want her shame to spread to her children, so she has to silence Hippolytus. She thus writes a letter claiming Hippolytus raped her, and commits suicide to punctuate the letter, thus ensuring Hippolytus won't be believed no matter what he says. Thus will her reputation remain intact.

Committing suicide to protect one's reputation may, for someone who feels guilt rather than shame, seem an odd thing to do, but given the connection between shame and reputation, and the fact that one's shame can spread to one's relatives (while one's guilt cannot), her suicide does in fact make sense. It would have made sense to the Greek audience who first saw the play.

When Theseus discovers the letter, he curses Hippolytus in revenge. Once that revenge is realized, a dying Hippolytus forgives Theseus and Phaedra while Artemis tells Thessus what happened and that she will now avenge herself on Aphrodite's favorite.

Thus ends Hippolytus. One can imagine, though, that the second play would have been titled Adonis, with the story about Artemis' killing Adonis with a wild boar. In this play, we likely would have had Artemis declaring what she was going to do to Adonis, followed by Adonis' appearance and Aphrodite warning him not to go deep into the woods and to stay away from any animal that did not run away. In the same way that Poseidon killed Hippolytus, the boar was in fact the god Ares, who killed Adonis out of jealousy -- no doubt spurred on by Artemis. The play may have ended with Aphrodite tending Adonis' wounds as he died, or Persephone welcoming him permanently to Hades.

Given that Adonis' fate -- to spend a third of his time with Persephone and a third of his time with Aphrodite and a third of his time being his choice (he chose Aphrodite) -- had previously been decided by Zeus, we would not be surprised if the third play involved Zeus setting up a permanent celestial court to decide conflicts between the gods. After all, by Artemis killing Adonis, Zeus' decision regarding Adonis is nullified -- Persephone now gets Adonis permanently. One cannot imagine that Zeus would have been favorable to that outcome, meaning he would have an incentive to ensure that his will were not again circumvented by one of the other gods. Further, given that Aphrodite goes into Hades after Adonis, Zeus would have to again decide what to do with Adonis -- which turns out to be to split his time with Aphrodite and Persephone equally. Of course, Artemis, too, sought the resurrection of Hippolytus, and she would have likely insisted that if Aphrodite could get Adonis back, she should be able to get Hippolytus back. Hippolytus is, of course, resurrected, and Artemis makes him her priest.

Thus, a celestial court emerges that ends the revenge cycle. This would reflect those tragedies that celebrate the establishment of the earthly court system of Athens, such as we see in The Oresteia.

It is unfortunate we have no idea what the satyr play could be in either case.

On the Emergence of Tragedy

While one can certainly identify elements of tragedy in literatures around the world, tragedy in its purest form has only arisen at certain times and places: 

       Ancient Greece                          -- 5th Century B.C.
       Ancient Rome                            -- 1st Century A.D.
       Renaissance Europe                   -- 17th Century A.D.
      Shakespeare, et al (England)
       Post-WW II Modernist America – 20th Century A.D.
      Eugene O'Neill
      Robinson Jeffers

Why do we see tragedy arising at these times, in these places? Are there any similarities among these times and places? Let us look at the social situation of each:

5th Century Athens
       Athenian political hegemony after defeating the Persians
       Strong economic growth
       Influx of immigrants
       Golden Age of Athens

1st Century Rome
       Stable government under Augustus after Civil Wars
       Strong economic growth
       Influx of new people and ideas from the furthest reaches of the Empire
       Golden Age of Rome

Renaissance England
       Stable monarchy under Elizabeth after period of political instability and the defeat of the Spanish Armada
       Strong economic growth
       Influx of immigrants
       Elizabethan Age considered a Golden Age

17th Century France
       Stable French government under Louis XIV after period of wars
       Strong economic growth
       Influx of immigrants coinciding with colonialism
       Called the Grand Siecle (Grand Century)

Post WWII Modernist America
       World dominated by American hegemony after the central role of the U.S. in winning WWII
       Strong economic growth
       Influx of immigrants from around the world
       This period is known as The American Century

What we seem to see here is a major cultural shift, followed by a peacetime during which certain artists have the time and luxury to consider the changes that took place. Most cultural changes are gradual, or the jump is not that dramatic. But sometimes you get cultural changes such as we saw with the Renaissance.

Above is a cusp catastrophe model of cultural change.  It is rare for a culture to move along the front edge of the topological map. More commonly, cultures evolve along the back side of the map. We can see what will happen if one moves from one stable section to another along the front of the map -- sudden, surprising changes. One can imagine that during such changes, people will have a desire to figure out what, exactly, just happened. And that's where tragic art comes in. The bigger the jump, the purer the tragedy that will be written.

Coincidentally, during long periods of stability, we tend to see epics written, providing confirmation for that culture.

Tragedy affirms the new cultural forms, while trying to make sense of them.

Comedy arises out of conservative impulses, to ridicule the excesses of the new.

Drama tends to combine the genres. Novels, especially. These can in some ways be seen as storytelling for storytelling's sake. 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The War on Shame Cultures

At the beginning of Euripides' Hippolytus, Phaedra feels guilty about being in love with Hipploytus. This guilt turns to shame when the Nurse tells Hippolytus about Phaedra's love for him. To avoid the shame she feels -- and its extension to her children -- Phaedra kills herself and accuses Hipploytus of rape. She makes the accusation both out of vengeance for his rejecting not just her, but all women, and to ensure nobody believes him if (when, in her mind) he tells someone she was in love with him.

When Theseus discovers the suicide letter, he immediately takes vengeance on Hippolytus. But in death, Hipploytus not only does not take vengeance on Theseus and/or Phaedra's children, but rather, he forgives both Phaedra and Theseus. This act of forgiveness not only ends the vengeance cycle, but returns the play back to guilt and, thus, to the beginning of the play. Thus, we see a thematic unity in a play that seems, superficially, to be two different plays.

Forgiveness is an aspect of guilt culture, along with third party vengeance (in the form of a court system that has to discover things like motivation, etc. -- internal things -- thus reflecting the internalness of guilt itself), whereas direct vengeance is an aspect of shame culture. This is how and why Hippolytus' forgiveness returns us to guilt in the play.

One should also note that while the shift within Greek culture from a shame to a guilt culture is marked in the play within the human realm, we equally see this shift has not taken place within the divine realm. Artemis plans to take revenge on Aphrodites by killing Aphrodite's favorite. Given tragedies were in trilogies, one can thus imagine a second play on that story, with a third about the shift in the divine realm toward a guilt culture and trial (and forgiveness) system. Thus, the human realm is actually ahead of the divine realm in Euripides' world view. It is the gods who have some catching up to do with the humans.

Given that shame results in vengeance and guilt results in trial and/or forgiveness, we can see the kinds of problems which would arise in a mixed shame-guilt culture. After all, it is individual people who feel either guilt or shame. And, as we saw with Phaedra, guilt can become shame -- especially if the culture is still dominated by shame. What Phaedra does is an indication of the violence that can erupt when regression to shame from guilt occurs.

When we refer to a guilt or a shame culture, or a culture in which shame is decreasing and guilt is increasing, it is important to understand that within the culture there can be shame-drive and guilt-driven individuals, even if a certain majority makes the culture as a whole a shame or a guilt culture. Given the social nature of shame, one can expect a tipping point to be reached once a certain number of guilt-driven individuals is reached. Once the shame network collapses, there will be a large number of people who seek what the shame culture gave them -- and it is likely they will find it in religion or government. Monotheistic religions tend to develop guilt, so when the culture turns monotheistic, guilt will increase, shame will decrease, the network will collapse, and the religion will dominate. But once enough people embrace guilt (or it embraces them), the religion itself is no longer needed, and its dominance becomes broken. Which is what we see with the Catholic Church at the end of the Medieval period.

As noted above, a shame culture requires a network of people who are all morally regulated by shame. You not only feel shame, but you shame others. That creates the shame network. But if some people start feeling guilt rather than shame, those people cease shaming others. If you cannot count on others to shame you into good behavior, you may cease good behavior. A person regulated by shame who does not have enough people around to shame him or her becomes morally freed. This results in calls for some external authority to regulate others' behaviors. Ironically, it will likely come from those who themselves feel shame -- and no longer feel the social pressure to conform their morals -- who will want the external regulator. Those who feel guilt, after all, are internally regulated.

At the same time, there have to be enough people with guilt in the culture for there to be an institutional change from the institutions of shame to those of guilt. Those who are regulated by shame will take advantage of being forgiven. And not everything should be only forgiven. Thus, one needs  a court system in place to act as a third party judge and to ensure third party vengeance is undertaken. Only if the latter takes place can a full-fledged guilt culture arise.

And this is why the Euripidean trilogy, of which we only have Hippolytus, likely went in the direction of the creation of a celestial court system to work out differences among the gods. Once the vengeance cycle is cut off, the culture can move away from shame and toward guilt. This is the role of a court system. And it is the role of the external authority that emerges to regulate those who are still in the shame culture, so they will not take advantage of those who feel guilt. Only when those who feel guilt have sufficient numbers will they no longer need to ensure that one of their own has power over everyone. When this happens, we see the disintegration of the external power.

Indeed, it is no coincident that the U.S. government has gained in power in direct proportion to the extent to which members of the guilt culture in the U.S. have felt threatened by members of the Middle Eastern shame culture. All calls for more policing within a guilt culture country are always directed toward whatever shame subculture continues to exist. And when we see our military acting much as the police in dealing with shame cultures around the world, we should also perhaps not be surprised to see our police being militarized as well. The boundaries are being blurred because each organization is fighting the same foe -- shame cultures.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Two Interacting Neural Systems Affect If One Is Social or Antisocial

Scientists at Caltech have discovered that there are two systems of neurons that influence whether and at what time one is either social or antisocial. Specifically, the antisocial system induces self-grooming, or repetitive behaviors.

Each system inhibits the other, so that one switches from social behaviors to antisocial behaviors. Certainly we see most people switching between these two behaviors. However, people with autism seem to have the social system turned off most of the time.

As it turns out, the social system is also an inhibitory system. It inhibits neural activity. The antisocial system is an excitatory system. It increases neural activity. In other words, this discovery supports the Intense World Theory (IWT) of autism.

The IWT says excitatory neurons are working more strongly than are the inhibitory neurons. That is, positive feedback dominates. In very social people, inhibitory neurons dominate, meaning negative feedback, meaning equilibrium dominates.

Of course, these are likely not the only inhibitory and excitatory systems in the brain. And it is likely that there will be not only other alternating systems, but also co-dominant systems. But this research provides some pretty strong evidence for why it is that excitatory dominance would result in autism.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Theory of Mind and Social Regulation in Post-Guilt and Post-Shame Cultures

Most people think that intellectual work is solitary work, that scholars sit alone and think, then write. And there is some truth to that. But there is a reason intellectual work has been connected to higher education, and it is the classroom conversations.

The two postings on shame and guilt emerged from my own preparation for a class at SMU where we are discussing the various permutations of the Phaedra/Hippolytus myth. Each permutation was written during a "tragic age," an age wherein tragedies were written. These ages are rare and come about in the aftermath of drastic cultural change, to try to figure out what just happened.

After discussing the shift from a shame culture to a guilt culture, as dramatized in Euripides' Hippolytus, one of my students came up to me and asked about my claim that when shame is breaking down and hasn't been entirely replaced by guilt (or, equally, when guilt is breaking down and hasn't been entirely replaced by ???) that people begin to look to something outside of themselves -- religion or government -- to regulate their behaviors. He asked me if people really wanted religions or governments to control THEMselves, or if they really wanted others controlled.

This is where the theory of mind comes in.

How do you know others need to have their actions controlled? Or, equally, what makes some people think others can control themselves?

One has a theory of mind if one thinks that others have a mind like you have a mind. Of course, humans also tend to overgeneralize. Thus, we assume that others' minds are exactly like our minds. When people violate our expectations, we don't assume that they have different minds than we have, but rather that they are mentally ill or immoral or irrational. That is, they should be identical to ourselves, and so any deviation is an evidence of some sort of error or mistake.

What this means is that most people favor the kind of society they believe will be best for themselves. Those who think that everyone needs to have their morals enforced by something outside of themselves really think that they themselves need to have their morals so enforced (and this necessarily precedes the emergence of those institutions of enforcement, which of course act in their own self-interest and hasten the decay of the degrading institution). And those whose behaviors are regulated by either shame or guilt think everyone else's behaviors are so regulated as well, and thus do not need religion or government to ensure good behavior.

Things are pretty straightforward in "pure" shame or guilt cultures, or even a solidly transitional culture like Medieval Europe, but what about contemporary, complex societies like the U.S., where you have people controlled by shame, others transitioning from shame to guilt, others controlled by guilt, and others transitioning out of guilt? One would expect a combination of rebellious people (teens, gangs, etc.), religious conservatives, classical liberals, and progressives. What kind of society is best for this mixture of people who believe themselves to be internally controlled and those who believe themselves to require external control?

The answer to this last question will depend on where you are at on the above spectrum. Rebels and classical liberals (libertarians as a group probably include both of these) will tell you that nobody needs government or religion to tell anyone how to live. And if you do feel you need that stuff, go find a voluntary organization to help you out. Religious conservatives and progressives will tell you that nobody can be trusted and everyone must be controlled. Each group is talking past the other three. (The rebels and the libertarians differ on the best inner control; religious conservatives and progressives differ on the best external control.)

If we look at things historically, though, we can see a pattern emerge. The shame culture of ancient Greece and Rome breaks down and becomes Medieval Europe, dominated by the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church emphasized guilt, and thus moved Europe through the transitional culture it dominated into the guilt culture that (ironically) no longer needed the unity created by the Catholic Church. Individuated by guilt, Europe underwent the Protestant revolutions, followed by the Scientific Revolution, capitalism, and classical liberalism. This occurred because the external social control created by the Catholic Church was no longer needed -- precisely because the Church was able to successfully instill guilt throughout Europe.

The guilt culture of Modernism began breaking down in Postmodernism, resulting in the rise of Progressive politics. With guilt breaking down as a social control, and nothing there to replace it, it was believed that social control could only be achieved with an externalist institution. In a post-religious time, the solution was government rather than religion. In places where this world view was imposed on more Medieval-type societies (like Czarist Russia), we saw truly oppressive religious-government fusion. In places where this world view emerged naturally out of Modernism, such as Europe and the U.S., we saw the rise of the regulatory welfare state. In both cases, people who were certain they could not be trusted to run businesses without someone telling them the right way to behave made sure everyone was properly regulated since they falsely projected onto everyone the belief that nobody could be trusted to run businesses. But not just businesses. The drive to regulate the food you eat and the amount of soda you drink arises from this same world view.

Given the Catholic Church gave us guilt with which to replace themselves (they were really using what was already on the rise), we may wonder what the State is helping develop in us, which will allow us to replace the State (or at least decentralize and weaken it, as happened with the Catholic Church).

Speaking personally, I feel neither shame nor guilt. Yet, my morals are well-regulated. Unfortunately, I don't have a name for whatever it is within me that regulates my morals. I have no feelings of regret for past actions, but view them as learning experiences to become a better person and which led me to where and who I am today. But all of this comes from something inside; I don't need anything external to tell me what's the right thing to do. Which is probably why I'm a libertarian. But I'm a post-progressive libertarian (is that what a bleeding heart libertarian is?). I don't know what to name what regulates by actions, but its lack of a name hardly means it doesn't exist.