SPIRITUAL SOAP: Weird & Güd - Get In Loser, We're Going Cancelling
L'eggo my "ego e absolvo"
Before we were The Black Sheep, we were a newsletter named Spiritual Soap. Please enjoy this article from our history!
I enjoy research too much and I’m a shameless critic. Weird & Güd is the conjoining of those misanthropic qualities into something useful: recommendations and fascinations neatly packaged together for you every week, some hermit-ism required after all.
Las Lagrimas de San Pedro El Greco, 1580
One of my most vivid memories of church was going into the Catholic confession box. I was supposed to confess my sins as a 10-year-old and the only sin that came to mind was arguing with my sister. Being expected to divulge your sins creates a strange atmosphere; normally we hide our sins, but in that confession box I felt compelled to expose more sins than I actually had.
I sinned right there in confession to complete the missing part of the picture; I lied and invented a sin — that I’d stolen my sister’s toy — and confessed to it.
Redemption, absolution, atonement, penance, making amends; there’s a lot of language dedicated to assuaging guilt. All major religions teach a form of redemption; the difference comes in what that wrong is and how you atone for it.
Islam takes a more casual approach — توبة or tawbah holds redemption is a prayer away. Islam views Christianity as the weird kid in the room over that whole “irredeemable state of original sin” business. The questionable Nation of Islam — who probably has one of the least forgiving slogans, “Justice or Else!” — dedicates a full day to redemption with their Day of Atonement. Indigenous American cultures see absolution as directly tied to one’s health; a literal perspective on the weight of guilt.
I wanted to share more atonement traditions, but it’s hard to search for the history of atonement when there’s a busy discussion on how modern societies will atone for their own past sins. Maybe it’s the burden of self-awareness, but humans are a guilty species with an insatiable desire for absolution.
Henning M. Lederer
Helen Lewis made a distinction between shame and guilt back in the 1970s before Brene Brown was serving her uniquely Southern scientific oration. Lewis found what Brown later confirmed — guilt is hating what you did, shame is hating what you are.
The concept of original sin is a good example; while you can be absolved of pretty much everything, the Christian is never free of original sin. Interpret as you will, original sin is the scar of humanity — no matter how saintly you live, you will always bear that one, irredeemable flaw.
We can’t speak of morality and guilt without speaking of Nietzsche (really, we can’t speak about anything without speaking about Nietzsche). He argued that our shame is highly internalized, often existing whether or not we’ve actually harmed someone, a state that grows perfectly ripe fruit for anyone with a hunger to attach our internal shame to an external issue.
If you’re already down on yourself, it’s not hard to convince you that your internal shame is actually the result of your external existence (enter: ideology, enter: religion).
The most sinister part of someone subverting your sense of shame to further their own system is the role you play in this game — you’re not a victim, but a participant. Shame is something we all struggle with on some level, whether about something we’ve done or something we haven’t done, there are times when we question why we are the way we are.
What could be more seductive than an exit strategy out of cyclical self-shame?
In turning your shame towards an external system, that struggle is no longer meaningless lamentation, but morally justified — a righteous cause to suffer for. As Nietzsche said:
“…every sufferer instinctively seeks a cause for his suffering…”
The danger in this game of shame is what Brene Brown’s research uncovered:
Shame is highly, highly correlated with addiction, depression, violence, aggression, bullying, suicide, eating disorders….Guilt, inversely correlated with those things.
It doesn’t matter what kind of game you construct to pass the hot potato of shame, everyone gets burned eventually. Worse yet are those who feed off that shame and actively cultivate it.
Nietzsche argued that when the powerless punish those in power, there is a different dynamic at play, not merely justice, but a layer of revenge for that power imbalance beyond what the original crime at hand might be.
His argument conjures the image of a wounded animal; the animal who feels he has enough power to flee or fight is slower to attack, but a wounded animal attacks even the hand that feeds.
The wounded animal is often the most vicious.
Sword of Damocles by Richard Westall, 1812
Shame is a uniquely noxious form of punishment; a fee, a prison sentence, even a beating all allow the punished to retain a sense of personal worth because they are directly atoning for a crime — “you did that, so now you must pay this.”
Shame gives you no sentence to be served; shame is the original sin, it says your crime can never be atoned for — your very existence is the crime.
What religion understood is this — humans are unique in their sense of shame and have a deep need for redemption. Yet, can another human, himself in need of that very redemption, ever absolve us of our shame? Knowing that shame births new suffering that detracts from growth and personal responsibility, the shame-mongering we see today is not a path to atonement, but a dog whistle for volunteer self-flagellators.
You don’t have to hate yourself for another person to love themselves. Hating health doesn’t cure the sick. Hating food doesn’t feed the hungry. Dare I say it — hating wealth doesn’t lift the poor.
Creating shame around one thing does not automatically guarantee pride around another. On the contrary, those who would encourage your shame are only made weaker upon being granted their wish.
“Distrust all in whom the impulse to punish is powerful.”
By Tyler Spangler
I had written something light for The Güd section this week. The world has been an overwhelming place and grappling with the undercurrent of those overwhelming events is necessary but exhausting. I wrote something entertaining, something digestible, but then I thought no, what we need now isn’t entertainment and fun.
We actually need a whole lot of nothing — so that’s what I’m giving you. Here is the space, the nothingness, in which you can take just a moment to exist without the constant influx of opinions, news, facts, and narratives yelling for your attention. Go on. Just sit there for even 30 seconds.
Sometimes things happen so quickly we lose the space we need to think in. We become reactive, acting off instinct rather than using the expensive rational part of our brain we evolved so hard to earn. A few newsletters back I warned about the risks of information overload, but don’t read that just yet.
Buddhism and mindfulness teach the practice of cultivating space to give yourself just a little longer to pick a better option than instinct would have. I recently got mad about something silly. It wasn’t about that one thing, it was about so many other things and that one thing was the perfect, final punching bag. There was a moment I could have chosen to breathe, slow down, and do nothing. Instead, I did something and I made it worse.
Sometimes the hardest thing we can do
Facebook asks, “What’s on your mind?” and Twitter prompts, “What’s happening?” Few things will create space for you. Most people and platforms profit from your instinctual reactions — outrage, fear, defensiveness, and yes, shame. Triple Güd guest Viktor Frankl, the psychiatrist with the unique angry Austrian grandpa speaking style, also knew the value of space.
“Between stimulus and response there is a space.
In that space is our power to choose our response.
In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
I hope this space has acted like a momentary oasis from a world that demands your constant attention and actiot feels like none of us “have time” anymore, but I think we’re really just lacking more…nothing. So hopefully, amid an overwhelming number of things, I’ve been able to give you
I hope this makes your week a little weirder and a little güder. Now go forth, be weird, and above all, be g
I sit alone at a desk biting my nails to bring you every edition of Spiritual Soap. Is it worth it? Don’t tell me, show me.