On masculinity, shame, humiliation and legitimate violence

An excerpt from an interesting interview at https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/feb/27/michael-kimmel-masculinity-far-right-angry-white-men :

One of the most prescient observers of violence I’ve ever read, James Gilligan, wrote a book called ‘Violence’. He argued that shame and humiliation underlie basically all violence: “Because I feel small, I will make you feel smaller.”

In my interviews with extremists, both “actives” and “formers”, I have found time and time again that they have experienced that sense of humiliation and shame.

In his famous statement, Osama bin Laden talked about how the west had humiliated the Muslim world … that conservative Muslims have been humiliated by hyper-modern society and the cosmopolitan McDonaldization of the world. For them, restoring the seventh-century caliphate is their way of reinstating traditional masculinity.

I call this “aggrieved entitlement”. If you feel entitled and you have not gotten what you expected, that is a recipe for humiliation.

At least in the case of the German, Swedish and American guys that I interviewed, sometimes it is not really political at all. Many of them, especially the American guys, were sexually abused, beat up, bullied as children. Some of them have basically the same sort of profile as the victims of the Catholic priests. Growing up they were deeply ashamed of themselves; they didn’t do well in school, they didn’t have friends, they were sad, miserable, and they escaped into themselves. That just made them better targets, and the far right drew them in.

The camaraderie of the community validates their masculinity, and – even more importantly than that – gives them a sacred mission. That is really powerful for these guys.


There is a famous experiment by a primatologist at Stanford. He takes five monkeys and measures their testosterone. Then he puts the five monkeys in a cage. The monkeys immediately establish a hierarchy of violence – number one beats number two, number two beats number three, number three beats number four, number four beats number five. Of course, number one has the highest testosterone, and so on.

So the experiment is: he takes monkey three out of the cage and he shoots him up with testosterone, off the scale, and puts him back in. What do you think happens? When I tell this story my students always guess that he immediately becomes number-one monkey. But that’s not true. What happens is that when he goes back in the cage he still avoids monkeys number one and two – but he beats the shit out of numbers four and five.

So what any reasonable biological researcher would conclude is that testosterone does not cause aggression, it enables it. The target of the violence must already be seen as legitimate. You have a biological argument and a sociological argument. So the answer to your question is that it is never either/or. It is always both. Always.

  • Michael Kimmel

Killing in war

Why would young soldiers kill total strangers in war?

One of the ways you convince yourself to kill an ‘enemy’ is to hate them.

Contrast effect

Experiments show that people are willing to walk an extra ten minutes to save $10 on food. But those same people wouldn’t dream of walking ten minutes to save $10 on a thousand-dollar suit. An irrational move because ten minutes is ten minutes, and $10 is $10.

– Rolf Dobelli

Tricky mistake

In his book ‘Influence’, Robert Cialdini tells the story of two brothers, Sid and Harry, who ran a clothing store in 1930s America. Sid was in charge of sales and Harry led the tailoring department. Whenever Sid noticed that the customers who stood before the mirror really liked their suits, he became a little hard of hearing. He would call to his brother: “Harry, how much for this suit?” Harry would look up from his cutting table and shout back: “For that beautiful cotton suit, $42.” (This was a completely inflated price at that time.) Sid would pretend he hadn’t understood: “How much?” Harry would yell again: “Forty-two dollars!” Sid would then turn to his customer and report: “He says $22.” At this point, the customer would have quickly put the money on the table and hastened from the store with the suit before poor Sid noticed his ‘mistake’.

– Rolf Dobelli in ‘The Art of Thinking Clearly’

The other way round

Female models advertise cosmetics and thus, many female consumers believe that these products make you beautiful. But it is not the cosmetics that make these women model-like. Quite simply, the models are born attractive and only for this reason are they candidates for cosmetic advertising.

– Rolf Dobelli in ‘The Art of Thinking Clearly’

Your right way vs my right way

A boy caught for stealing was in the police station again. The inspector told the father, “Your kid has been in this station too many times already, and frankly I’m tired of seeing him here.”

“Yeah, I feel the same way too,” said the father. “I am tired of seeing him here too.”

“Then why don’t you teach him? Teach him the right way and he will not be here anymore.”

“Yeah, I have already taught him the right way,” said the father, “but he just can’t learn. He keeps getting caught!”

Belief vs faith

“We must here make a clear distinction between belief and faith, because, in general practice, belief has come to mean a state of mind which is almost the opposite of faith. Belief, as I use the word here, is the insistence that the truth is what one would ‘lief’ or wish it to be. The believer will open his mind to the truth on the condition that it fits in with his preconceived ideas and wishes. Faith, on the other hand, is an unreserved opening of the mind to the truth, whatever it may turn out to be. Faith has no preconceptions; it is a plunge into the unknown. Belief clings, but faith lets go. In this sense of the word, faith is the essential virtue of science, and likewise of any religion that is not self-deception.”

  • Alan Watts

Artist’s pride

To be able to appreciate Vincent’s painting, you must have at least the eye of Vincent’s calibre. If not, his paintings would seem strange. And because his standard was so high, few could appreciate his work and no one bought a single piece from him for many years. When his brother heard of Vincent’s plight, he secretly arranged for a lady to buy one.

The lady was not known to Vincent, and so when she came, Vincent was happy. But soon his happiness turned into sadness and anger. Because the lady simply looked around and casually picked the piece right in front of her to buy.

“You are sent by my brother,” Vincent said. “You don’t understand paintings. You never bothered to look at them. I can’t sell my work to one who has no eye for paintings, sorry. I can’t exploit a blind person. Please also tell my brother that he does not understand painting, otherwise he would not have sent you.”

Later the brother came to apologize. “I wanted to encourage you but instead I have insulted you. I am sorry. I will not do such a thing again.”

Herd instinct

A guy decides to prank his friends by spreading the rumour that there’s a huge discount sale going on at Funan IT Store. The fake information spreads over the social media, and soon the guy begins receiving back convincing variations of his original message. But there are so many and they are so realistic that the guy is starting to wonder if there maybe is a real sale going on at the IT Store.

And as the messages keep on coming, as the doubt keeps on mounting, the guy finally gives in and takes a trip down to Funan IT Store. Indeed there is no huge discount sale. He is satisfied.