'Production Versus Plunder' ~ Part 17: Plato's Apostle
By Paul Rosenberg - July 25, 2015

There's a reason why Hobbes and Rousseau are revered thinkers to this day: they saved the legitimacy of rulership as the Divine Right of Kings was failing. Performing the same job more than a thousand years earlier was a man named Augustine of Hippo. We'll examine.

Continued from last week


Once Constantine had moved his capital to the east, the Western Empire was more or less left to its fate. Certainly there were titular emperors who wanted to restore the glory that had been Rome, but it was manifestly beyond saving. The barbarians grew stronger and stronger, and Rome weaker. Through most of these years, Rome was paying the barbarians hundreds of pounds of gold every year, in exchange for peace. The Western Empire had become a vassal state of the barbarians.

Into this mix comes the man we know as St. Augustine. Born in 354, he obtained an extensive education and by the time he was 29, he was operating one of the best schools in Rome. By his 30th birthday (in 384), he was appointed the professor of rhetoric for the imperial court at Milan. This was the most important academic appointment in the Latin world (that is, the western world, as opposed to the eastern, Greek world). This was also a very powerful political position.

Two years later, Augustine went back to his home in Northern Africa and became a monastic Christian. His conversion came about after studying Plato's work for years, plus the study of a famous ascetic saint who lived in the desert, completely cut off from civilization. Soon, Augustine was a renowned preacher and by about 396 he was a full bishop. Shortly thereafter, Augustine set out to remove the heresy of Donatism1 from his territory. At first he tried to convince the Donatists to join the approved church, but when that failed, he called for government force to repress them.

In 410, the city of Rome was taken by barbarians under the leadership of the Visigoth Alaric. As always, people sought someone to blame. Some said that their new Christian religion might be to blame for the disaster. The ruling class in particular complained that any religion that championed "turning the other cheek" and that held worldly empires in low esteem was dangerous.

In response to this, an imperial commissioner named Marcellinus, a friend of Augustine's, asked him to respond to the charges. Augustine quickly produced the first several chapters of his book, The City of God, which rather effectively quieted the complaints. (He continued the book over a number of years, until it was finally complete.)

It is important that Augustine was not merely a clergyman; by 419, he was personally acquainted with the emperors Honorius and Theodosius II, and was authorized by them to undertake the publicity of their edicts. It is also highly important that Augustine's teachings in City of God became the foundation of the Catholic Church's theology for approximately a thousand years, and are incredibly influential still. In short: Augustine created the theology of the Roman Catholic Church.

It is almost without question that Augustine is still considered the greatest theologian of the Church. But, to buttress the point, here are quotations from Pope Benedict XVI:

[Augustine is] the greatest Father of the Latin Church.

It could be said that all the roads of Latin Christian literature led to Hippo, the place in North Africa where he [Augustine] was Bishop from AD 395 until his death in 430.

And, this was the case very early as well. At the Second Council of Constantinople in 553, only three Latin authorities2 are quoted: Hilary, Ambrose, and Augustine.

Augustine's City of God presents human history as being a conflict between the City of Man and the City of God, which strongly parallel's Plato's ideas on the heavenly pattern and the ideal state.

Augustine is not shy about his regard for Plato. In City of God, he gushes over him:

Among the disciples of Socrates, Plato was the one who shone with a glory which far excelled that of the others, and who, not unjustly, eclipsed them all. By birth, an Athenian of honorable parentage, he far surpassed his fellow disciples in natural endowments, of which he was possessed in a wonderful degree. Yet, deeming himself and the Socratic discipline far from sufficient for bringing philosophy to perfection, he traveled as extensively as he was able, going to every place famed for the cultivation of any science of which he could make himself master.

Augustine sees Christianity as the ideal and perfect philosophy, but it is very clear that he hold's Plato's ideals in exceptionally high regard, saying: It is evident that none come nearer to us than the Platonists.

Roman Christianity, from Augustine's time onward, was a Platonic Christianity. This is evident not only from the doctrines, but from the art of the era, which was almost always unrealistic in its representations. This is the Platonic ideal in visual expression: The earthly form is but a shadow; it is only useful to the extent that it focuses the mind around the heavenly ideal. Thus, highly representational art would distract the mind from the high ideal to mere earthly beauty. Accordingly, realistic, representational art did not reappear until the 15th century3.


By the middle of the 5th Century (401-500 A.D.), the Church of Rome found itself in a unique position: Abandoned in the midst of a dying empire, with little and decreasing access to force, but in an excellent position of legitimacy. It is from this most unusual position that they began to build a most unusual form of empire.

The Church found itself with a monopoly on legitimacy. If they proclaimed something to be approved by Christ, a huge number of people would presume that the person or thing was deserving of honor, respect and support. They would act accordingly. And, if the Church condemned something, it would be condemned by their now-millions of followers. It was almost the sole provider of legitimacy in what had been the original Roman Empire.

In this situation, it became critically important for them to maintain this legitimacy. They developed dazzling ceremonies, dramatic fables, and inserted their images into the minds of westerners at every possible point and in ever-improving ways. They sought to become the center of reference for every human mind in Europe. Beyond all else, this imperative guided the rule of the Church. And it must be said that they succeeded astonishingly. The men and women of Europe referenced nearly all of their thoughts to the Church's opinion for a thousand years. Their odd empire was dramatically successful. They certainly proved that great masses of men can be very effectively controlled without weapons.

One of the most critical aspects of legitimacy, and one that is very little understood, is the ruler's need to be legitimate in his own eyes. (We will cover this in more detail in a later chapter.) Again here, the Church found comfort in Plato. One of Plato's more important teachings was that philosophers should rule over men, instead of soldiers and old-style kings. For example, he says:

Until philosophers are kings, or the kings and princes of this world have the spirit and power of philosophy, and political greatness and wisdom meet in one… cities will never have rest from their evils,– nor the human race, as I believe,–and only then will this our State have a possibility of life and behold the light of day.

And, the same sentiment in a more direct form:

Until philosophers bear rule, States and individuals will have no rest from evil.

The Church at Rome went about to rule as philosopher-kings. Beginning with very little military power – and unlikely to have much for some time – they worked long and hard on techniques of persuasion, guidance and manipulation.

Students of the Middle Ages have often commented on the oppressive nature of the Catholic Church upon the minds of men. This was often true, but it was not generally the goal of Church leaders to be cruel: it was to maintain power in conditions of limited force4. And the truth is that the greatest of all word-based motivations is the fear of shame.

For whatever reason, humans are grossly over-affected by shame and will cower before those who are able to impose it. It is very common that when people encounter the first possibility of shame, they instantly and almost unconsciously assess the likelihood of shame being brought upon them by each option in front of them. They move away from whatever might cause them shame, even before considering the merits of the individual options. In other words, we look ahead to see if shame will result from our options before we weigh the costs and benefits. Then, if shame will be possible, we reject the choice, no matter what its benefits may be. Shame is an unnaturally powerful tool of manipulation.

Accordingly, the Church became expert at applying shame and the fear of shame. It was necessary if they were to maintain the bizarrely difficult position of rulership without violence. This does not excuse their cruelty, but it goes a long way toward explaining it.


1The Donatists rejected any priesthood imposed upon them by the Emperor, especially priests that had denounced Christ during persecutions. Moreover, they considered the Emperor a usurper of Christianity.

2"Latin" authorities are those who wrote in the Latin language and came after the writers of the New Testament and the men of primitive Christianity, all of whom wrote in Greek.

3Gothic art, beginning a few centuries earlier, was a step in the direction of representational art.

4Again, it is a most unusual circumstance to build an empire without possessing a significant military advantage. To force people to obey at the end of a sword is one thing; to manipulate them into obedience with mere words is quite another, and requires much greater skill.

* * * * *

To be continued…

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  • Martin

    Mr. Rosenberg:

    This article and series are your take of history, and I am grateful for your work and perspective.

    However, I can say for these last parts, that your take on the history of the Catholic Church is way off the mark.
    Let me show you how.

    Maybe your perspective is influenced and limited in understanding by your non-Christian background,
    and specifically your ethnic-religious background may even be even quite opposed to Christianity in its claims to Jesus of Nazareth to being Messiah.
    If so, you will find the spread of Christianity for 2000 years including that the Catholic Church is the ONLY institution to have survived to date 2000 years, to be fundamentally incomprehensible.

    You say that it is astonishing that the Catholic Church and Rome grew from the era of St. Augustine, not based on the usual military power, but based on persuasion and manipulation, namely the emotions of shame.

    This is a completely * Pagan * way of thinking and understanding.
    Pagans, communists and all forms of materialists all think that the masses or populations are either ruled by a strong hand with violence and power or plain bribery, or they are manipulated by propaganda and superstition.

    As an example, today we can see that Marxism has split in two variants:
    The materialist power and workers-jobs classical Marxist approach (Stalinist, Maoist and Troskyite versions),
    and the Marxist “alienation” approach, that ** EMOTIONS **, that is, individual desires, are important (leading to the New Left of the Frankfurt School, which is all about alienation, gender and sex ideology, personal rebellion).

    Once again, how you propose it, is how the Pagan Romans saw it, and how the two variants of Marxism see it:
    Either you rule by violence / power / money, or you rule by emotions / alienation / propaganda / superstition.

    That is not what happened after the Fall of Rome.
    What happened is that true civilization started rebuilding again after disastrous Roman corruptions that debased coinage many times, even changed calendar months to manipulate politics,
    to back to being based on TRUTH and THE RULE OF LAW coming from a belief that Objective Truth and Reality exists and must be followed.
    The moral legitimacy of the Catholic Church came precisely from Truth and Rationality, and allowed the old lost Roman Rule of Law to come back.
    The Roman Canon Law started at the Fall of Rome and became ** THE ** basis of Western Civilization, property rights, legal system, personal rights and protections.
    Even Jefferson recognized that in analyzing the basis of common law for the new United States.
    * THIS * was the reason for the success and power of the Catholic Church for 1000 years, until the later corruptions occurred which precisely Truth, Rationality and Rule of Law were negatively affected.

    Mr. Rosenberg, I don’t know about you,
    but I found that MANY people today who are in the intellectual elite do NOT believe in Objective Truth and Reality, a form of modern pagan corruption.
    If your personal system of values and principles does not believe in Objective Truth,
    you cannot even conceive that a Catholic Church operating on a Roman Canon Law based on Truth and Rationality is the REAL reason for a 1000 year success without armies, massive public bribery (a sort of socialism) or manipulative propaganda.
    It cannot be possible, to your mindset, it must be because of trickery!
    Trickery does not last 1000 years.
    But the Roman Empire and its fair system of laws (which you correctly explained earlier) did ensure the long success of the Roman Empire.
    The Roman Empire fell apart when corruption set in, laws were no longer just and followed, and the Empire population even welcomed the barbarians because they had a simple but clear system of real justice, justice based upon correspondence of actions to truth and reality.
    The Catholic Church just went back to that Rule of Roman Law.
    Even until today, there are MANY elements of Roman Canon Law in the Anglo-Saxon legal system, which precisely makes the Anglo-Saxon nations to be the most successful in the world.

    Please continue with your series, but please be aware, if the basis of your analysis is that somehow a Church tricked people with the emotions of shame for 1000 years, your whole analysis is on some really shaky unrealistic grounds.
    Rule of Law based upon Truth is a much better explanation…but then you will have to give credit to the Catholic Church, to the point that it validates Church teachings even to today.

    • dave jr

      Counterpoint: Are you saying the Holy Roman Catholic Church is without corruption? Is not corruption the downfall of any civilization? Um, yah, the authoritarians caught red handed in every contrived crises, I won’t turn a blind eye, no matter what my upbringing or indoctrination. I find it fascinating and intriguing, the idea that the Catholic Church could be a metamorphous, as such, of the waning Roman Empire. It explains a lot. Mostly how life and human advancements could have been held down for 1000 years or more while the Church ruled over a languishing economy. Yes, throw Galileo in jail! Sell those indulgences and burn the heretics at the stake! C’mon Martin, I believe you know better.

    • Don Duncan

      “The Catholic Church went back to that Rule of Roman Law.” The same law that Pagans invented? And what was the basis of that law? What philosophical system is based in “objective reality “? It certainly isn’t Platonic. It was Aristotlian. But it was not a conscious decision, nor was Aristotle openly acknowledged or thoughtfully understood. Had it been, no empire would have been the result, nor would Rome have fallen.

      Church teachings are based on mysticism, just as Platonism. Or do you forget st. Augustine? Like Plato he was a brilliant man who made a fatal mistake in not identifying the axiomatic first principle that would have grounded him in really: A=A. Subsequently, the old Roman culture did not recover, did not thrive, but limped along for centuries, suffering the Dark Ages, Middle Ages. It took a rediscovery of Aristotle and his reality based philosophy to give us truth instead of superstition, the reformation, and the renascence.

      You explain centuries of social decay with “corruption” and then mis-identify centuries of stagnation as “a return to objective law”. What was the fundamental cause of the corruption? When has a rulers/ruled system ever been a stable or just culture? These are questions you need to answer.

      • dave jr

        Hi Don,
        Plato, Aristotle and then Augustine were very smart men and should be held in high esteem for their intellect. I’ll honor that while questioning their loyalties. They were all statists and/or authoritarians. It seems any name that survives history is an authoritarian one. Giving them the benefit of the doubt, I conclude that all would be empires in the making can afford some regulation and taxation for the greater (communist/anti-capitalist) good, which these men were expert in espousing…all hail marx.
        Jesus of Nazareth, on the other hand debated the Pharisees, denounced dependence on the empire and overturned the tables of the bankers. Jesus was by definition an anarchist.
        Here, here…now comes the holy roman catholic church with pomp and circumstance…holies of holies and saint of saints…to fulfil this new anarchistic role? sheesh.
        I think you see it as I do, corruption is corruption and crime is crime, no matter how the perpetrators window dress it. In one way or another, we have all been lured into it, one against the other…all hail marx!

      • Martin

        Corruption happens in all human systems, starting from the individual to the collective, vices instead of virtue.

        We are talking about long-term history here, 1000 years, which means * standing the test of time *, and that also means that corruption was not big enough to collapse the system.

        The Roman Rule of Law is based on Natural Law,
        which means that even Pagans know what is right and wrong on a human level.
        It is NOT dependent on one or another philosopher.
        There is NO Platonic or Aristotelian legal Law, there are only philosophies that may or may not have entered into law systems.

        Here is the answer to your question in a nutshell that fits a comment post:

        1. Roman Rule through Roman Laws from 449 BC to Justinian’s Code of 529 AD (Eastern Empire).
        2. Eastern Empire did not decay in the Rule of Law until later, so it lasted until 1453.
        2. Western Empire DID decay in the Rule of Law.
        There are MANY books that explain how the late Western Empire became lawless, dictatorial, with coups and usurpers, government theft and extortionate taxes.
        Basically the Rule of Law was IGNORED, then: End of Empire.
        3. The Catholic Church with the Pope as a monarch, took over the functioning legal system of the Roman Empire, wherever if not in practice then by influence.
        4. The creation of the Holy Roman Empire in AD 801 had the basis of Roman Law, and it lasted exactly 1000 years until 1803 AD. These are historical facts.

        Its all in Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roman_law

        If you don’t like Catholicism or you don’t like religion or you are influenced by atheism or protestantism,
        don’t let that cloud your judgement on learning from history and the truth.

        If you love liberty,
        then you MUST recognize that the elements of Roman Law,
        starting from the Roman Empire and survived by the Catholic Church,
        is a HUGE HELP in maintaining concepts of liberty over the ages.
        Be grateful, not negative.

        Once again, putting aside your prejudices, please see my main point:

        Its RULE OF LAW (Roman) which incorporates elements of FREEDOM (given to use by Natural Law), that lasted 1000 years,
        and is what we need today to stop the new corruptions of collectivism (leftism-marxism) and radical disconnected individualism (anarchistic “law of the jungle” libertarianism).

        We need to return to Constitutional TRUE LAW AND ORDER based on Natural Law and Creator (God)-given Liberties as mentioned in the Declaration of Independence,
        not liberties defined and given by a dictator, ideology, some man-made philosophy or latest political fashion.

        • dave jr

          Corruption always collapses ‘the system’, time and time again. There can be no ‘system’ without universal compliance. We either do it out of mutual respect for trading partners, or we don’t. There is no ‘authority’ that can enforce it. Authority can, however take advantage of the process, instituting their own brand of legitimate (legal) system, thereby hastening the demise of mutually beneficial trade. It always starts out as fair and balanced and ends up with connected and invested. Force majeure under rule of law.

        • dave jr

          Don’t talk to me about vices. My vices don’t affect you and therefore are none of your business.
          You don’t think corruption is big enough to bring down the ‘system’? You must love the golden sacs. Do you think the system was built on corruption? Where is your head? Corruption is the opposite of the ‘system’ built on free trade. Absolutely, as Mugsy and Bugsy move in, players move out to protect themselves. Society (like you) then sez, we need more Mugsy and Bugsy and their endowed international monoliths to protect the ‘system’. Ha! Lets see where this winds up.

        • Don Duncan

          Now I understand you. I was confused when you spoke of “law and order”. I see law being used as a tool of social control, deception and manipulation, resulting in chaos, not order. But you meant to say “true law…”, god’s law, not “some man-made philosophy…”. You didn’t tell me how I tell “true law” from untrue law. Is it self evident as Jefferson claimed? If so, how do we settle different of opinion on what is “self evident “? We certainly can’t use logic, Aristotle’s invention. Or Revelation, people can have conflicting ones. Also, we can’t justify a law by calling it “natural ” because I consider individualism natural, logical, compatible with our nature, but you don’t. I am upset when sovereignty is violated, but you probably think that is a prejudice I need to put away. Is it prejudice to believe Jefferson meant individual rights when he penned “equal rights”? Is it prejudice to believe the Constitutional provision for taxes is theft? Is it wrong of me to object to others deciding the fate of my wealth? Isn’t my wealth my property? Isn’t that a property violation? Isn’t property an extension of my self, my mind? If you don’t have the right to take my wealth, do you acquire that right by joining a gang? Isn’t democracy gang rule? How are all questions addressed by God? Whose God? Christian? Muslin? Protestant? Baptist? Quaker? Mormon? Catholic? Jewish?

          • Martin

            Don, I suggest you review the elements of a classical thought, which would answer your questions. Your questions are normal for human beings, and the answers have been debated and recorded for ages.

            To organize your thoughts:

            You said, how do you arrive to the Truth?
            First, you have to make
            sure that your intellectual processes are not irrational (which by
            modern philosophy, there are many irrational philosophies such as Kantianism and dialectism).
            The basic idea is the Law of Thought (see Wikipedia), and the very basic concept, is the Law of Non-Contradiction.
            The moment you accept contradictions,
            that is the moment that absolutely nothing makes rational sense (contradictory people are really frustrating, no?),
            and then its all a question of what wins by force,
            usually imposing some unreal artificial illusion of someone’s desire onto everyone else
            example, unlimited debt creation from artificial dollars, socialism
            from promising the results of the work of the productive given to the
            unproductive, etc).
            This imposition of unreality to create a
            “reality” causes all sorts of injustices, unbalances, distortions,
            chaos, dictatorships and crimes on the personal and social level.
            Marxism is especially based on pedantic tendentious logic and is fundamentally irrational, therefore all of the evil and injustices it causes.

            About Religions:
            There is the Divine Law, given by the Creator (God), and since the nature of God is quite disputed between different religions, this unfortunately brings that there is no universal view of what are the elements of Divine Law.
            Up to the last century, there was a concept of Christendom that both Protestants and Catholics agreed on very many elements of Divine Law, and even religious Jews agreed.
            Then last century, a lot of disputes and disagreements occurred. Protestants started believing in Divorce (although it went against the explicit words from Jesus in the Bible — considering that one of the main Protestant arguments that they are truly Bible followers!), Jews started agreeing to Abortion which was against the Ten Commandments, etc.
            The point is that Divine Law today is disputed, basically nullified in human action by disagreement, and therefore governments feel free to pass any law based on any reason with no limits due to Divine Law.
            I must tell you very openly, that the real Divine Law from the real God, must be with a non-contradictory set of principles, and as proof, there should be “as a signature” physically impossible, proven and permament miracles. I find that to be the Catholic religion, and anybody can google Catholic miracles and compare that with anything else miracles.

            Then there is Natural Law, you can read about this in Wikipedia. Natural Law is what comes naturally to human beings, even without religion or to pagans.
            Be careful though: natural is in context of HUMAN SOUL PURPOSE (not physical laws for inanimate matter):
            Humans do kill but the purpose of indiscriminately killing and murder is anti-social, against human nature wanting to live in peace.
            Abortion is considered unnatural, that a mother kills her own child in addition to killing an innocent fellow human being.
            Homosexuality is unnatural as it goes against the purpose of human sexuality for natural reproduction of man & woman in a stable relationship (natural marriage), and the offspring children need naturally both a mother and father.
            Natural Law has many other elements: humans have a natural ability and right to trade, work, do commerce, own property, and have freedom of movement and speech, but be careful, all limited to a constructive good purpose. Freedom of property does not mean that you are free to own everything as much as freedom to marriage does not mean you can or should marry 1000 times.

            The basis of all society is: God, Family and Work, and that is basically Organic Society. The government, associations, Church, all of these organizations have the purpose to support activities that lead our lives, both individual and in family, to God. That is the medieval concept of the world, which I hope Mr. Rosenberg will explain correctly.
            Of course, the modern secularist, libertarian, anarchist, marxist, gender-gay ideologist, or atheist rejects most of what I mentioned above. Note I lump all together as basically Pagan: all is power, money, sex, materialist, hedonist, the opposite concept to God, Family, Work, Divine and Natural Law.

            In the classics, human nature was recognized to be oriented to Good or Evil, which arises from either the 7 Virtues or the 7 Vices.

            See Wikipedia, and see carefully, how the 7 Vices today explain many of the malevolent philosophies, politics, bad laws and abhorrent human behavior:

            1. Envy – the basis of Socialism, class envy. Also the basis of Racism.
            2. Greed / Avarice: the basis of crony, predator Capitalism (note that this is different than legitimate Free Market Enterprise).
            3. Lust – the basis of endless divorces and broken families, and the homosexual movement with its gay bar scenes and anonymous sex cruising.
            4. Gluttony – lusts of the body for food (think obesity today)
            which includes substance abuse (think of the hellhole of alcoholism and narcotics)
            5. Wrath / Anger – think of the perpetual social agitators, most of them are socialists too
            6. Sloth – the laziness of doing what you should do right – think of the people who should care and not allow our liberties to be lost and wrong things being done in government, but don’t care and don’t do or say anything to the increase of evil
            7. Last but really the First: Pride. Think of the big egomaniacs in government, people who should be the LAST ones on earth with power. Trump comes to mind for me. And Obama is a classic narcissist.

            From the 7 Vices, all of the malevolent people and their philosophies, politics, actions, laws and business is what causes injustice, irrationality, and takes away our freedoms.

            Don, the above is classical thought, known of human nature for ages, and it all interacts with each other.
            Read up on it and you will be amazed how it explains things.
            Nothing of human nature has changed now in the Year 2015.

  • notwithabang

    A pall of disinformation cast over the unlettered for a very long time (not dissimilar in effect to the MSM’s actions in recent history). At least the spell finally led the self-righteous followers of a figment – through their Inquisitions/ Reconquista – to the enlightened
    texts (many held in Toledo) that would enable the flowering of minds like Bacon,Gutenberg, Dante, Petrarch, da Vinci, et al.

    I’m enjoying this series Paul, thank you.

  • 2prickit

    Playing on the emotions: see Edward Bernays and the Art of Public Manipulation

    When one discovers that the Church he /she was raised and educated in its fold as a child is only an Institution, the fact does not change his/her guiding principles that leads to his daily decision making. One practices being oneself through religious principles and rather chooses to do so because it is the path that ultimately leads one to Know Thy Self. These principles are found in the 1776 Declaration and are the real meaning behind all the fireworks on the 4th of July celebration. IRS is now controlling these ideas by disallowing certain tax exemptions to private churches and schools and thusly we have now the religion of State.

  • Bruce C.

    I don’t know enough about the history of Catholicism to comment like others have here, but perhaps the most important point in this piece is the claim: “And the truth is that the greatest of all word-based motivations is the fear of shame.”

    I’m not sure I agree with that. I’d like to know what sources that’s based on.

    One reason that’s confusing to me is that Catholicism in particular (v. other denominations of Christianity) is itself based upon shame, namely the mis-trust and hatred of the self. Almost everything an inveterate/”good” Catholic thinks is viewed from the perspective of guilt. That is why the concept of vicarious atonement is so important and, ironically, why so much worldly/material corruption and “sin” is seen as inevitable and “therefore” acceptable. It’s not like Catholics are normally proud and guilt-free and thus abhor feelings of shame, they are already steeped in it.

    Please explain.