Levels of Shame

What makes us human? Love? Violence? Evil? All of that, true, but also shame. It is a proof of the Bible’s great literary value that the first thing Adam and Eve acquire after the fall is shame. They start to wear clothes, they are embarrassed when God visits them, they are thrown into the chains of shame.

Levels of Shame:

  1. What I am doing is shameful in the symbolic order of the society. (Showering. Masturbating. Having sex. Picking our nose. Scratching our balls.)
  2. What I am doing is shameful because of the other’s gaze. (The eery feeling that you get when you realize that someone is staring at you even if you’re not doing anything wrong—hence why stalkers are so terrifying.) This is a chink in the imaginary order, when some foreign intruder whom you haven’t taken into account of perceives you without you perceiving them.
  3. What I am doing is shameful because it reveals my desires. (Similar to the previous example.) We don’t really want others to know what we really want, what we really like, what we really love. As Žižek puts it nicely, we hide our desires, we set up edifices of false desires, “so the worse thing that can happen to us is for us to get what we desire.” For others to know what I desire is to be penetrated deeper than I understand my own self. It makes us vulnerable, supremely vulnerable.
  4. What I am doing is shameful because it exposes the excess that I cannot control. (When I fart. When I burp. When I laugh too much too loudly.) This is even worse than me revealing my desires, because my desire maintains my fantasy, but this excess can destroy it.
  5. What I see is shameful because it proves the inexistence of the Big Other. (When I see some beggar on the street, knowing that the Big Other inevitably leaves someone out. When I see someone running naked, realizing that the symbolic order cannot control everything. When I hear a terrible political scandal, reminded of my wishful fantasies about politics.)

Shame is our complicated relationship with others. It is terrifying. It is part of the human condition.




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