A Top Ten List!
Helen breaks all this talk of shame culture into a list, which I reproduce for you below. (How very appropriate for a blog. That all blog posts aren’t top ten lists still amazes me…)
The Top Ten Reasons to Love “Shame Culture”
1. There can be no humility without humiliation. I can’t repeat this too often.
2. Evil is sexy and exciting, but there is very little frisson to behavior that’s “beneath you.”
4. Shame reinforces the postmodern concept of “mutual implicatedness,” which used to be called the Brotherhood of Man. This one is tough to understand, so I’ll quote myself (a lazy shortcut for which I feel appropriate shame):
Virginia Burrus writes that “shame arises where we humans both honor and overflow our limits, where we recognize the limits of autonomy—where we observe, with no little alarm, the spreading stain of our mutual implicatedness.”
To de-pomo-ify that sentence: We only feel shame before people because we think that we’ve somehow harmed them, even though the only harm we’ve done is to have put a little more sin into the world. If we truly believe that putting sin into the world is a meaningful kind of harm, then we’ve come to terms with one of the most difficult implications of the brotherhood of man.
5. I am inclined to be forgiving of my own faults—more so than I ought to be—whereas the public is not. With guilt, I always get less emotional punishment than I deserve. (More.)
6. Body-related shame tends to get the worst rap of all, but “a sense of shame is what safeguards the bodily privacy necessary to civility” (Jean Bethke Elshtain). If you want a culture that respects privacy and personal space, you need shame.
7. Consider this Navajo insult: “He behaves like one who has no family”—that is to say, shamelessly. Shame reinforces our “little platoon”-sized loyalties. (More.)
8. There is an important kind of courage that comes with a willingness to undergo humiliation; when shame disappears, so does this kind of courage. This is especially bad since this special courage is the virtue that philosophers, bloggers, and other truth-seekers need to have. (More, more, more.)
9. Shame is visceral and involuntary, which makes it ideal for enforcing your moral code on people who don’t agree with it, and doing so in a way that doesn’t involve coercion or the state. This is a feature, not a bug. (More.)
10. Guilt allows us to stay safely within our comfort zones, but shame pushes us beyond our limits. This is because shame is unforgiving, while guilt reinforces the fallacy that “to understand all is to forgive all.” (This is similar to #5, but focuses less on feeling bad than on doing better. See here, especially the part about punk traditionalism forcing people to excel.)
Be sure to read her caveats as well, but she makes some excellent points. Actually I think there is a great deal of value in shame culture, and one reason I think for a while there I ended up so badly was we had departed from our larger family – the vast extended family – and settled down far away from the watchful eyes of aunts and grandparents and tattle-telling cousins. Far away from those that might shame me should I step out of line.
You know that whole “It takes a village to raise a child” thing. It takes a village to shame them, too, which is essential if they are ever to understand consequences and relationships.