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On Shame

Perhaps the least appreciated idea in the western world today is the importance of shame.

When I get my act together, I hope to begin a series on the topic. In a world populated with opportunism, and in a world where it seems a not insignificant portion of support for government is thinly veiled attempt (successful) to “get my own while the gettin’ is good” I find it utterly astonishing that the people who take advantage of others do not have any shame about it, and that those who are getting hammered by these actions are not much more seriously promoting the idea that this is shameful behavior.

What is surprising is that I seem to sense it in all parts of life. Think about your own work office. I am sure you know fellow workers who take every short-cut, who take the easy assignments, who take advantage of every little perq, and so on. Do they not have any shame about it? Do others, who are less opportunistic, not in some way try to shame these actions?

Is shameful behavior on the rise or has it always been this way?

Is our tendency to call out shameful behavior on the wane or have our attitudes always been the same?

One of my meta-beliefs about the world is that government-laws, etc. follow custom. I really do believe changes in culture, attitudes, custom precede that what gets enshrined in formal institutions and not the other way around. If we want to see less opportunism in government, and less institutionalization of people living “high in the hog” (think of ridiculous public sector pensions) then that can only start with a change in attitudes in all phases of life about what is shameful. People have to feel shame, else they are going to be bordering on nihilistic sociopathy. Indeed, I have been accused of being such a person for worrying about shame the way I do. I think “they” have it backward.

Finally, I don’t know how I can not sound like a complete elitist douche when making these points. I admit I am a very fallible person and not necessarily above the fray, so to speak. But I think these sorts of questions are vastly underconsidered possibly because they are hard to measure and stick into formal models.



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