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Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Shame versus Guilt

A Facebook friend posted a link to David Brooks article on The Shame Culture.  http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/15/opinion/the-shame-culture.html?mwrsm=Facebook&_r=0

Brooks is publicizing an argument made by Andy Crouch in Christianity Today. "From online bullying to Twitter takedowns, shame is becoming a dominant force in the West....Typically carried out by anonymous online users with axes to grind and little to lose, doxxing involves making someone’s private information public. That includes home addresses, phone numbers, financial histories, medical records—anything that can be found in the endless databases available to canny hackers.
Doxxing can be a drive-by prank on most anyone who draws attention. But more often its targets are singled out for humiliation....
Brooks summarizes:
Crouch starts with the distinction the anthropologist Ruth Benedict popularized, between a guilt culture and a shame culture. In a guilt culture you know you are good or bad by what your conscience feels. In a shame culture you know you are good or bad by what your community says about you, by whether it honors or excludes you. In a guilt culture people sometimes feel they do bad things; in a shame culture social exclusion makes people feel they are bad.
Crouch argues that the omnipresence of social media has created a new sort of shame culture.


But is this quite right?

I would put it a little differently than Brooks or Couch.

The classic argument is that we lost the ability to be a shame culture when we moved from rural areas and small towns to big, anonymous cities where either nobody knew us OR if they shamed us we could easily find another group of friends (easier than living in a town of 200, for example).

 I think it's possible that we've lost both guilt and shame, by and large. The move from absolutes to relatives cuts down on guilt, and I explained shame above. In certain aspects we have a greed culture -- what's best for me, which is inherently socially isolating.

Perhaps this is part of the decline in religious observance in the West -- guilt, shame and fear (of Hell) were major factors in sustaining religious observance.

Honor-Shame evolving into Fame-Shame


But now, having thought a bit more about Crouch's argument, I'm more sympathetic to his point -- that in social media communities such as Facebook, we have created an arena in which we can be shamed by information we have shared (or videos that have been taken of us, etc.) Rather than being born into a small-town community, we signed onto it.

But on Facebook, we're being shamed by idiots, rather than the classic small-minded small-town people -- usually good people with a different/narrower point of view.

And instead of the opposite of shame being honor (external) or self-esteem (internal), "large parts of our culture are starting to look something like a postmodern fame-shame culture."

Fame is, of course, much different than honor.

Is shame good for us?

Here Couch and Brooks disagree:

Couch sees an opportunity:
“Honor–shame dynamics are intrinsic to the gospel,” missionary executive Werner Mischke told the ION attendees, “not just a lens we put on to make the gospel understandable to oral cultures. When we read the Bible’s emphasis on honor and shame, we are taking our Western lenses off to see what’s actually there.”
Brooks isn't so happy about the return of shame:
 The guilt culture could be harsh, but at least you could hate the sin and still love the sinner. The modern shame culture allegedly values inclusion and tolerance, but it can be strangely unmerciful to those who disagree and to those who don’t fit in.
I'm more with Brooks on this in my current thinking. I see polarization causing a lot of harm in the U.S. -- where we tend to just listen to people and sources that agree with us, which isolates our thought and gives power to that thought -- we dare not disagree with these people and sources, or we will become shamed.