Stop Feeling Uncomfortable

From Rod Dreher’s website:

A few years back, when I interviewed an older black man for a book project, and listened to him tell stories of the suffering he and his family endured under Jim Crow, I felt a deep sense of shame, because these things were terrible. Gratuitously cruel. Some of them were things I had never known about. I had not done those things to them. I wasn’t even alive when they were done. But sitting there in his living room, I could not get away from the burning awareness that somehow, I was implicated in it, because my ancestors — none of whom held slaves — had been part of that society.

Until people get rid of this very self-indulgent shame and guilt, this society will stay effectively segregated in many ways. It’s impossible to want to hang around somebody who makes you feel this bad. It’s easier simply to avoid the source of such unpleasantness. And many people do. Not for any evil reason but because they feel uncomfortable and nobody willingly seeks out discomfort.

If I met someone whose ancestors personally organized the Jewish pogroms of 1905 or held my Ukrainian ancestors as slaves until 1861, I’d definitely not want them to go all narcissistic on my account and start emoting all over the place. I’d much rather they looked at me as a completely ordinary, mundane individual than a source of all this emoting.

This is not a criticism of Rod whom I deeply respect and who was my very first red-pilling influence. But I do believe that we have control over our feelings if over little else. Feelings don’t simply appear. They serve a purpose and, once we change the purpose, we can feel something else.

Imagine if N felt bad around me over the Holodomor or the much more recent Russian invasion of Ukraine. We’d become extremely annoying to each other very soon. But also, what a great way to shut me up.

I strongly feel that people who experience this sort of thing need to analyze what purpose it serves for them and let it go already.

18 thoughts on “Stop Feeling Uncomfortable”

  1. He’s not talking about shame/guilt, but about responsibility. It’s really different.

    I have direct ancestors with slaves. A lot of them. There’s a lot written on those plantations and the state university is doing an archaelogical dig at the main one, it’s so important historically. There’s official documentation of atrocities committed by my direct ancestors, awful practices, and so on, and so forth.

    I’ve never taken it personally, and its largely because we are all implicated — I figured we all were looking at the inequality situation when I was 4, which was before I realized who these ancestors were.

    There are people who have another reaction, those who keep saying “but it wasn’t me, wasn’t me, wasn’t me”, and who do feel shame/guilt. That’s about not having dealt with the conflicts and realizations this info can cause, in some cases, and in the case of others I honestly think it’s about wanting to continue benefiting from discrimination and knowing that desire is now frowned upon.

    But these attitudes are not what Dreher is recommending.


    1. “I could not get away from the burning awareness that somehow, I was implicated in it, because my ancestors — none of whom held slaves — had been part of that society.”

      “shame/guilt, but about responsibility. It’s really different”

      No it’s not. As individuals in a liberal democracy, we are accountable for our own actions, period, point final.

      As communities of living individuals, we are all together, in common, responsible for addressing the history of our locality in ways that best serve the living.

      No such thing as blood guilt, or blood responsibility. The dead don’t get a vote, only the living who are the only ones able to make and remake the world to suit themselves. Any other interpretation leads directly to biological determinism in politics and governance (e.g. feudalism).


      1. No. The point is that that past is not past, it is with it now. What you do now matters. “My family did not have slaves, so I do not have to address this” is stupid.


        1. “is stupid”

          Nothing one can do in the present will have any effect whatsoever on the past lives of the dead. Only those living in their time could have changed their circumstances.

          I do agree that one would have to be “stupid” to take seriously political claims made by individuals and groups in the present who pretend to speak on behalf of the dead in order to leverage their own power and $$$ in the here and now.


        2. Your outlook reflects tribalism, which, to anyone provided with sufficient historical knowledge and perspective is exactly what is happening. But then liberal democracy is what, less than a century old ? No wonder that societies are regressing to “magical thinking” modes of thought.

          The vast majority of “indigenous” Europeans (to use a word that resonates with those who pursue your line of thinking) aret direct descendants of peoples who practiced slavery at various levels: Greeks, Romans, Germanic and Slavic peoples alike. What are we to do today to atone for the “sins” of our forefathers ?

          If you cannot see how disturbing it is to think that you are responsible for whatever actions your slave-owning ancestors may or may not have committed, there really is no hope whatsoever that we can develop a liberal, democratic and just society where individuals are accountable for their own actions and nobody else’s.


          1. No. Post slavery reparations were never paid, and black people were repeatedly deprived of their property and civil rights. In this sense slavery is not really over. These are not questions of individual morality, feeling, etc. — although what it sounds like to me is that you all DO feel guilty (yet don’t care) and are trying to hide from the obvious. AND have an “I’ve got mine so eff everyone else” mentality. I look at civil society, etc., in another way [in which one actually does care about the neighbors]


      2. Although I will allow as there are a couple of different versions of what it is to be a member of civil society here. “I’ve got mine, I am breaking no laws, and the heck with everyone else” isn’t an attitude that corresponds very well to participatory democracy


  2. Having control over one’s feelings sounds amazing to the point of being superhuman. Is this what your analyst has helped you accomplish?


    1. I don’t think it’s either amazing or too hard to figure out that there’s a secondary gain from this kind of emotion and then do something about it. Mostly, people know exactly what the secondary gain is but they choose not to let go of it.

      Right now, though, we have neighborhoods burning, people dying, and if this isn’t a good reason for people to stop this self-indulgent guilt, I don’t know what is.


      1. I agree that one should do something about this emotion – channel your feelings into doing something concrete that helps someone.

        I wasn’t thinking about this concrete example when I wrote my comment, but rather about the following:

        “But I do believe that we have control over our feelings if over little else. Feelings don’t simply appear. They serve a purpose and, once we change the purpose, we can feel something else.”

        I wish I had control over my feelings!


  3. Interesting thread


  4. “this very self-indulgent shame and guilt”

    You couldn’t be more right, Clarissa — second-hand guilt is as ridiculous as it is self-serving and mentally unhealthy.

    I don’t know if any of my ancestors owned slaves. I’m sure that the half of my family tree than lived in the South since the late 1700’s fought for the Confederacy. SO WHAT?? — not my problem or concern.

    At this point in my life, I’m responsible for the behavior of exactly two creatures: myself and my cat.

    I do my part for the animal kingdom by keeping my cat indoors, so she can’t kill the hundreds of rodents, lizards, and small birds that outdoor pet cats are known to prey on over the cat’s lifetime. So give me a cookie, thanks.


    1. Good for you! (About the cat). I care about little birds very much and it bothers me that house cats eat them.

      I’m with you on the guilt part, too.


  5. The guilt puzzles me. I have ancestors who owned slaves– not big plantation owners as far as we know, but I’ve read a family will, where the one domestic slave is mentioned by name, and she is left to the wife along with the good bedstead and the cow. I have ancestors who fought for the Union, and ancestors who fought for the Confederacy, and ancestors who arrived in the US long after that was over with. Boat captains and crane operators and stock brokers and soldiers. Farmers and weavers and engineers. I think they’re interesting, but I’m not guilty of their crimes any more than I can take credit for their accomplishments.

    It makes me think of… there’s this crazy story about a guy in Louisiana who was adopted, and as an adult, went looking for his biological parents. He found out his dad was probably the Zodiac killer. Is that guy supposed to feel guilty? Of course not. Anybody can see how ridiculous that would be.


  6. I love Rod. He has taught me many things, he’s usually interesting, and his point of view is often challenging in fruitful ways. But he is a bit of an hysteric.

    I remember back in 2002-4 during the build up toward and early execution of the Iraq boondoggle, how vociferously he pushed the war. Like the vast majority of Americans he was seeking emotional catharsis through violence in a situation he did not truly understand, and refusing to listen to the countervailing cautions of wiser people who actually had deeper knowledge of what was going on. It was sad watching someone who is clearly intelligent, and in so many ways clearly committed to phileo and agape being so transparently emotionally manipulated by cynics. That sort of surrender to sentimentality is how we get fascism.

    This current mass indulgence in racial sentimentality is dangerous in exactly the same way. It’s an manipulative appeal to emotion over reason and rationality. We’re being pushed from every direction to respond to things emotionally – “be terrified of the flu!” “be outraged over Trump!” “be outraged over injustice!” “hate the Russians!” “be ashamed of your whiteness!” (etc.) – instead of with dispassion, detachment, reason, fairness, virility and courage..

    Rod caves into and indulges in emotionally based manipulative virtue signaling far more often than he should. How he feels obligated to ritually excoriate Trump every time he explains why the president’s agenda often has legitimate appeal to him and many other people is one classic example. I know that he feels compelled to do it as a rhetorical device, to make his argument palatable to the hysterics who wouldn’t listen to it otherwise.. But that’s precisely the point. It’s all about slaking people’s emotional needs, not rationality or reason.

    That indulgence of hysteria what’s truly a shame, and it’s one of Rod’s greatest flaws as a thinker and writer.


    1. Very true. Rod feels things very deeply. And I don’t. This is why I find the endless outrage about Trump’s personal shortcomings to be repetitive and needless. The constant “can you believe what he tweeted????” lost their potency after 3 months, let alone 3 years.


      1. ” Rod feels things very deeply”

        I first heard of him around the time of his conversion/baptism to orthodox christianity on the blog of a progressive when those were thin on the ground (I want to say Roy Edroso) and then became reacquainted through the Marxist larpers at Chapo Trap House. Neither source ever treated things that he wrote… very… seriously.
        What I have read makes it seem that he goes through life with a level of nervous anxiety that must be psychologically exhausting… and I can’t relate to someone who perceives so much peril from so many directions all. the. time.


        1. I like him, generally, but there are periods where I can’t read him at all– like right now– where he’s all hair-on-fire all the time, posts too much… he’d be a far better writer if he posted a single digest every day, instead of trying to keep on top of every passing news current.


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