Arguing for a Return to Social Conformity
Fields, Suzanne, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)
If you didn't see the lists of "what's in" and "what's out" at the end of the year, you may have missed the discovery that "guilt" is out and "shame" is in.
The intellectually hip come and go, discussing the different meanings of guilt and shame from philosophical, psychological, moral, literary, anthropological and political points of view.
In therapy, this means that Freudian soul-searching analysis is out; Alcoholics Anonymous is in. (So is Prozac.) Exploring the roots of behavior is out; changing behavior is in. The shrill whine of "let it all hang out" confession is out; facing life like a man is in. Victims are out; heroes are in. Individual bravado is out; group conformity is in. Listening to the inner voice and "doing your own thing" are out; ceremony and good manners are in. Alienation is out; family is in. Self-esteem is out; self-respect is in.
"Theoretically, the difference is this: a shame culture provides a uniform code of conduct to promote civility, propriety, dignity, integrity, and honor," Stuart Schneiderman writes in "Saving Face: The Politics of Shame and Guilt." "Group cohesion is more important than individual expression, and good behavior is encouraged by knowledge that the consequence of deviation is expulsion from the group. The behavior of each individual reflects well or badly on the group reputation."
In this thesis, Japan is a shame culture, and so was the United States when the Puritan ethic predominated and public interests prevailed over private concerns. Even Alexis de Tocqueville saw America's cultural roots in a shame culture, for example in relation to marriage and the family: "In America all those vices that tend to impair the purity of morals and to destroy the conjugal tie are treated with a degree of severity unknown in the rest of the world."
All this bolsters Mr. Schneiderman's definitions of shame and guilt, and so far as he draws extensively on other thinkers from American, European and Asian intellectual history to make his points, his book fascinates. But it's not an easy read. He relies too often on contrasts that suit his polarities of thought but that blur rather than clarify his distinctions.
The driving force for his argument is that America started to go to seed when it made guilt the measure of man, giving individual rebellion a status it didn't deserve, culminating in the Woodstock generation. "Many people who consult psychotherapists are suffering from an excess of individuality," Mr. Schneiderman says.
Our guilt culture, he argues, allowed a generation to portray capitalism as demonic, a system that preys on innocent people. The Vietnam War became the evil engine of this demon, for which our leaders never apologized. Consequently, prescribed rituals and ceremonies that bind us together with the pride of national identity, such as pledging allegiance to the flag or putting on the country's uniform, were perceived as limiting independent (i.e., egotistical) experience.
The rebel with or without a cause was accorded an unearned status. Nothing could be worse than conformity. In a guilt culture, every man is his own judge. …