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Shaming and jealousy (via polytical.org) July 10, 2012

Posted by shaunphilly in Polyamory.
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Yesterday, Dan Jasper over at Polytical posted some thoughts about shaming and respectful dialogue. As anyone who knows me will guess, I think about the issue of respect and criticism a lot, so this was a subject which grabbed my interest.

I put up a comment (currently awaiting moderation) and wanted to put that comment up here:

Breast milk IS better. The patriarchy IS alive and well. The veto rule IS dangerous. Biblical inerrancy IS illogical. These ideas might be inferior to their counterparts, yet couldn’t that be demonstrated through respectful dialogue, as opposed to shaming?

Sometimes, yes.  But not always.

Christopher Hitchens, a personal favorite of mine actually, personally used shame as a tool against representatives of the Catholic Church (during debates with them, in some cases) in addition to rational points.  He did not respect the Church, and so why would he act as if he did?  In my opinion, Catholic doctrine and actions throughout the world are shameful, and in some cases the people in charge SHOULD be ashamed of what they have done, represent, etc.  We should not merely shame them, but sometimes emotion is the key to rational action.

Your seeming dichotomy between respectful dialogue and shaming is problematic, I think.  For me, respect is based upon honesty, truth, and a willingness to challenge and be challenged, not merely being nice.  Pure rational approaches (if this is what you mean by “respectful dialogue) are not always effective (or affective–HA!).  Unless we are to become straw-Vulcans, we have to recognize the relationship between emotions and intelligence, and that people don’t get to conclusions through purely respectful (especially if only rational) dialogue.  Sometimes the only way to get through to us is to show us how ridiculous our ideas are by playful mockery, pointing to moral failings in our ideals, etc.  In many other cases such tactics are not useful or helpful, but I don’t think shame is never appropriate.

Jealousy is a problem for many, not so much for others.  It is not a moral failing, but it is an unfortunate reality for many people.  I don’t think anyone should be shamed because they are jealous.  I think people should have compassion for the struggle with jealousy.  But if someone is not struggling–not trying to improve their relationship with–jealousy (or other emotional realities), then perhaps they are not working as hard as they could to make themselves emotionally healthy people.  Is that worthy of being ashamed? No, I don’t think so.

But the measure of a person is not so much what you are given, but what you do with it.  If a person who suffers from bouts of jealousy does not confront that problem as best they can, openly and with a desire to actually change it, then perhaps shaming is not appropriate but perhaps transparent disappointment and constructive criticism are appropriate.  And the unfortunate reality is that disappointment and criticism cause shame in people–because they actually are ashamed of being ridden with something.  That is, sometimes shame is the cause even when it is not the tactic used.  So, should we avoid any sort of interactions which might trigger shame, or should we only not intentionally shame?

And if someone is shamed by our attempts at respectful dialogue, should we be ashamed of doing so?  This is more complicated than respect/shaming dichotomies.  Just some thoughts I had after reading this yesterday.  While I agree with many of your points, I think that I disagree with what I perceive as some background assumptions which I see here.

I think that people feel shame quite often not because they were shamed, but because they are ashamed. Thus, it seems that this question of whether we should use shame, while interesting, is not the whole story. Criticism is not using shame, and the post at polytical seems to create ideas which could conflate criticism with shaming, which is problematic.

(sorry for my lack of activity recently. I’ve been feeling sort of depressed recently and am doing what I can to get out of it. Apparently reading polytical.org helps…)

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Comments»

1. wfenza - July 10, 2012

Well, I think there are two different kinds of shame. One is an emotion. It is something that you feel inside of yourself when you see your own actions/status/attribute as shameful. Nobody can make you feel shame in that sense.

The other type of shame is a collective shame, whereby a group or society deems a certain thing “shameful” and attempts to enforce this view through social pressure. This where “shame” gets used as a verb, and I think it’s mostly what the author is writing about.

Unsurprisingly, I think shaming tactics can be useful, albeit dangerous. Shaming is an effective tactic at moving a society or culture, but it’s less effective at convincing individuals. Hitchens’ shaming tactics were brilliant, not because they made his target feel shame, but because it helped the audience see that such behavior was shameful.

When deciding whether shaming tactics are preferred, one must consider one’s goals. Shaming is a good tactic for getting something out of the public eye, but not really for changing the hearts and minds of the offenders. If you’re actually trying to convince people to stop doing something, less coercive tactics are probably better.

2. shaunphilly - July 10, 2012

Yes, in my first draft of a response I talked about a similar distinction, but ultimately decided to de-emphasize that route this time. My point was that the emotional shame we feel is often caused by actions which do not seek to cause shaming. I didn’t see the OP making the distinction between the two, so wanted to make sure that this was not another call for people to stop criticizing other people because it might hurt their feelings.

Like I said, we should not collectively shame jealousy, but we should criticize it, even if it will cause people to sometimes feel shame.

3. [name redacted] - July 10, 2012

I think you disregard that any kind of emotions in a discussion will not only possibly weaken the rational points you say – if you start shaming someone, they will shut down and become defensive. This perhaps gives you the feeling that you defeated that person, but you will only reinforce their prior stance with this.

4. shaunphilly - July 11, 2012

@[name redacted]
No, I understand this. But it is the responsibility of the person becoming defensive to take responsibility for their emotional responses. Because while we don’t choose our emotions, we have the responsibility to respond to their presence in better or worse ways.

We have to distinguish between the feeling of shame and the active intent to cause emotional responses to manipulate. I would not want to do the latter, and if I unintentionally caused the former, I would empathize but it is not my responsibility.

5. [name redacted] - July 11, 2012

You sounded more like you wanted to intentionally cause the former.

You are right that it’s not your responsibility, but that is totally irrelevant when you are trying to have a discussion with someone else. Both sides should make an effort to keep the discussion on the rational level and refrain from behaviour that has a realistic probability in derailing said discussion. Responsibility doesn’t matter – you should just be as careful as possible, and you should NOT try to induce shame in the other person. You say that shaming can be appropriate. I vehemently disagree.

6. shaunphilly - July 11, 2012

I’m not particularly interested in maintaining relationships with people who are unwilling to take responsibility, for the way they respond to their emotions, in a mature way. I will almost always keep a discussion on a rational level, and if this offends someone that is their responsibility. I have little interest in maintaining close relationships with people who get offended easily or who lash out or manipulate when offended.

Responsibility not only matters, but it is a part of being a real adult, even in the case of responsibility for how we handle offense. There is no right to not be offended.

Again, I would only try to point out where something should be seen as shameful, but would not try and induce shame. If a person believes something ridiculous, has done something wrong, or otherwise has acted shamefully, my saying so does not make it any more shameful. I’m just pointing out the truth that they should already know, and if they know they should be trying to fix it.

As an example, while I am against slut-shaming, the fact is that calling me a slut is not going to work to shame me, because I don’t find any fault with being a slut. It’s not something worthy of being ashamed of. But the attempt to shame someone for it is a stupid and mean thing to do, even if it does not work. Or, as another example, if someone tried to shame me by calling me a liar (or whatever), if could not shame me because it’s not true.

The simple fact is that anything that anyone could point out which I should be ashamed of, I should already know about and be trying to rectify. And if it’s not true, while the attempt to shame me is rude, it is the attempt to be a dick which I would take offense at (and that offense is my responsibility), not the thing they were trying to shame me about.

Again, if by ‘shaming’ one means trying to cause someone to be ashamed of something (whether it s true or not), it can often be good if that thing is something which is actually harmful, delusional, etc. There are things people really should be ashamed to have done, believe, etc. We may disagree what things should be included here, but I would wager that you would agree that trying to shame a person who steals money from children or believes that people with darker skin are inferior is acceptable.

But if by ‘shaming’ one means pointing out a truth which may or may not be a source of shame for someone, that is usually appropriate. We cannot know what will cause such offense, and while we may sympathize, the truth is the truth.

You can disagree if you like, but I have not seen any rational warrant to do so.


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