Quotations by Gilligan, James


All violence is an attempt to replace shame with self-esteem.

James Gilligan (b. c. 1936) American psychiatrist and author
(Attributed)
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Quoted by Jon Ronson in "Jon Ronson: By the Book," New York Times (9 Apr 2015). When asked what one book he would require a US President to read, he named Gilligan's Violence: Reflections on a National Epidemic, and then, having said he's talked with Gilligan, Ronson gives the quotation above, and this is the form it's usually given, often then cited to the book.

In the actual book, Violence: Reflections on a National Epidemic, ch. 5 (1997), Gilligan has:

The different forms of violence, whether toward individuals or entire populations, are motivated (caused) by the feeling of shame. The purpose of violence is to diminish the intensity of shame and replace it as far as possible with its opposite, pride, thus preventing the individual from being overwhelmed by the feeling of shame. Violence toward others, such as homicide, is an attempt to replace shame with pride.

Added on 19-Jul-22 | Last updated 19-Jul-22
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Once we have labeled someone as “evil” there is often no limit to the cruelty and violence we can feel justified in administering to him ….

James Gilligan (b. c. 1936) American psychiatrist and author
Preventing Violence (2001)
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Added on 16-Jun-21 | Last updated 16-Jun-21
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What is at issue here is relative poverty, not absolute poverty. Inferiority is a relative concept. When everyone is poor together, there is no shame in being poor. As Marx said, it is not living in a hovel that causes people to feel ashamed, it is living in a hovel next to a palace. And as he also said, shame is the emotion of revolution, i.e. of violence. But one does not have to be a Marxist, or subscribe to everything he said (and I do not), in order to see how correct his insight was.

James Gilligan (b. c. 1936) American psychiatrist and author
Preventing Violence, ch. 5 (2001)
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Added on 2-Aug-22 | Last updated 2-Aug-22
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In short, the contradiction in the old defense of class stratification is that it defends leisure for the leisure class, but not for the underclass. With reference to the underclass, leisure is said to destroy the incentive to work, leads to slothfulness and self-indulgence, and retards cognitive and moral development. When applied to the leisure class, the concept evokes an image of Plato and Aristotle, whose leisure was based on slave labor, creating the intellectual foundations of Western civilization; or patrician slave-owners like Washington and Jefferson laying the foundations of American civilization; or creative aristocrats like Count Leo Tolstoy or Bertrand, Earl Russell; or, even closer to home, of our own sons and daughters (or of ourselves, when we were young adults) being freed from the stultifying tasks of earning a living until well into our adult years so that we could study in expensive universities to gain specialized knowledge and skills.

James Gilligan (b. c. 1936) American psychiatrist and author
Preventing Violence, ch. 5 (2001)
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Added on 16-Aug-22 | Last updated 16-Aug-22
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We cannot learn what causes violence and how we could prevent it as long as we are thinking in the traditional moral and legal terms. The only questions that this way of thinking can ask take the form: “How evil (or heroic) was this particular act of violence, and how much punishment (or reward) does the person who did it deserve?” But even if it were possible to gain the knowledge that would be necessary to answer those questions (which it is not), answers would still not help us in the least to understand what causes violence or how we could prevent it — these are empirical not moral questions.

James Gilligan (b. c. 1936) American psychiatrist and author
Preventing Violence, Introduction (2001)
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Added on 9-Aug-22 | Last updated 9-Aug-22
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The most dangerous men on earth are those who are afraid that they are wimps.

James Gilligan (b. c. 1936) American psychiatrist and author
Violence: Reflections on a National Epidemic, ch. 3 (1997)
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Added on 12-Jul-22 | Last updated 12-Jul-22
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I have yet to see a serious act of violence that was not provoked by the experience of feeling shamed or humiliated, disrespected and ridiculed.

James Gilligan (b. c. 1936) American psychiatrist and author
Interview in Jon Ronson, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, ch. 13 (2015)
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Added on 26-Jul-22 | Last updated 26-Jul-22
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