The Absence of a Culture of Shame

By Panichas, George A. | Modern Age, Winter 2003 | Go to article overview

The Absence of a Culture of Shame


Panichas, George A., Modern Age


DEFINITION: Shame. 1.1. The painful emotion arising from the consciousness of something dishonouring, ridiculous, or indecorous in one's own conduct or circumstances (or in those of others whose honour or disgrace one regards as one's own), or of being in a situation which offends one's sense of modesty or decency.

--The Oxford English Dictionary

"THE BASIC PROBLEM is that there is an absence of a culture of shame." That is the recent judgment of a European business executive regarding the ongoing scandals of corporate America. His words, however, go beyond simply corporate wrongdoing, and can apply to broad aspects of our culture and society, of which corporate greed is cruelly symptomatic.

Clearly, shamelessness has been tarnishing American culture to an ever-increasing degree since the end of World War II, though many Americans and their leaders will acknowledge neither the signs nor the extent of their affliction. To do so would require the kind of stern moral self-examination that is now largely alien to our secular ways and selves. It would require, too, the kind of reflectiveness that a Behemoth society would have no understanding of or patience with, as we press on with our attempts to create a new heaven and new earth here and now. To feel shame is something that hardly crosses the minds of Americans or that discomfits their conscience. We are, very simply, unprepared for dealing with pangs of shame or for undertaking spiritual soul-searchings. We are so governed by our temporal absorptions and adventurisms that we ignore moral and spiritual considerations. Our only certitudes are those that belong to the whirl of the world and the flux of time. We think of shame no more than we think o f sin.

Shame is a word that has no active place in our vocabulary, and when it is occasionally invoked it has no real meaning for us. Certainly it is a word that does not excite or liberate or make us enthusiastic. If anything it is a word that is perceived as restricting our expansive sentiments, our rights and ambitions; that implies or is antecedent to self-restraint, and conduces the recognition of self-limitation. Goethe's belief that only through limitation can mastery be attained is not one that the modern imperial self deems acceptable. Indeed, shame is one emotion that is not valued in contemporary life since it is commonly seen as something that thwarts self-expression and self-indulgence. As such it has been transformed into an ignominious word and emotion, viewed as carrying with it moral intimations and responsibilities that are interpreted as being unproductive and binding.

Both our social scientists and our social engineers, especially since the 1960s, view shame with deep distrust, even scorn, since it has for them inherently moral and religious connotations. Denouncers of the logos, especially those in the academy, prefer to bury or to truncate its meaning insofar as they reject not only standards of language but also standards of behavior. To them the classical and biblical uses of shame in a virtuous sense are objectionable and irrelevant in a postmodern age. Preachers of sexual utopianism in particular view shame as a fraudulent emotion, and today their view has been carried to fantastic extremes in all areas of a secular society, in which the pursuit of what is shameless is often equated with creative freedom.

It is imperative to resist forces that would reject, or muddle, or revamp the definition of shame as it has endured for many centuries. Shame is a heart-word that belongs to the legacy of Greece, Rome, and Israel, and to Western civilization throughout the last 2,000 years, and must be preserved and transmitted at all costs, if a common culture is to survive in these most perilous of times. We need, then, to be reacquainted with what precisely shame means, what it has always meant, despite ferocious efforts of "the enemies of the permanent things" to abolish the meaning of history and of humankind, and to create a new social and moral order. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Absence of a Culture of Shame
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.