Blame and Shame | review review
The art of dialogue and discussion has been replaced by rhetoric of blame and shame.
A group attempts to shift blame onto opponents and rival groups by associating their policies or actions with a despised concept or idea. If blame remains in the minds of enough people, those who blame it can claim higher moral ground and denigrate opponents. If sufficient agreement exists in society, then the blame could convince a majority of the population. However, where there is a sharp division on the basic norms of personal and social life, the edges of blame are blunt.
In fact, those who are supposed to be intimidated by blame become emboldened to claim vilified policies or actions as occupying the highest moral ground: “You say I’m a fascist; you are a communist. “You say I am a traitor; I say I’m a real patriot. Which side occupies the highest moral ground? Beware of those who try to claim high character in an argument!
Attempts to shame a person or a group have similar results. A fabricated statement or action is revealed in anticipation that an opponent will slip away in shame. In most cases, shame does not result, but pride does. Attempts to blame and shame create haughty counterclaims that deepen the moat between opposing strongholds and fill them with poisonous substances fanned by hot air. Blame and shame are qualities of those who hurl insults that do not effectively change the character of those who are attacked.
Attempts to humiliate individuals or groups are also counterproductive. Humiliation does not change character or morality. Humiliation arouses anger and retaliation. Indeed, as Nelson Mandela once observed, “there is no one more dangerous than he who has been humiliated”.
Punishment cults surround us. Some speakers seem to take obscene pleasure in reprimanding people with threats of punishment in this world and the next. Too many pulpits and platforms, secular and religious, thunder with statements that send people to hell rather than lure them to heaven.
The idea is that threats of punishment could lead to guilt and some conduct reform. However, guilt is not effective in producing true repentance and character change. Two psychiatrists visiting a pastoral counseling class began their presentation by saying, “Your goal is to create guilt; our goal is to remove the guilt. The thought came to my mind, but not the audacity to answer: “You ignore the foundations of my beliefs and my religious commitments. Secular and religious salvation does not pass through threats of hell, but through paths to freedom and abundant life for all.
So far it might seem that standards for individuals and society are not necessary to avoid blame, shame, guilt and humiliation. No! Positive standards are the result of a conscience based on fundamental and positive moral principles, not on ad hoc diatribes. The opening words of our Declaration of Independence are a point of departure: “We hold to be self-evident these truths, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments be instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. Healthy communities have strong mediating institutions that convey values and alternatives in contexts that allow individuals the freedom to make good moral judgments to govern themselves and society. I want to live in this healthy community.
Raymond B. Williams, Crawfordsville, LaFollette Professor Emeritus of Humanities, contributed to this guest column.
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