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Against Shame and Shaming (2)

October 28, 2016

I suspect that Hillary learned enough from her “deplorables” faux pas (however accurate and well-intentioned—and which I thought, at the time, had an up side of pushing people to be honest) that she will not make such slips as President. But what was wrong with it? As I now see it:

The problem is that she added to the feeling, shared by millions of Americas (I’ll group and name them “Tvoters”), that they are being dismissed, by the elite and by liberals generally, from human significance and right to exist, as well as from a share of the American dream, because they are shameful, persons who ought to be ashamed of themselves.

They think Hillary was shaming them—before an audience (LGBT) of persons who know what shame and shaming are, many of whom might in fact think that Tvoters should be ashamed, and who the Tvoters think ought to be ashamed of themselves but probably think that they, the Tvoters, ought to feel ashamed. It just gets nobody nowhere. The Tvoters refer to the liberal hypocrisy and oppression as “PC,” and they throw it back in the liberal faces.

The “shame and shaming” that I’m thinking about should be, but are not “the Socratic model of politics in Plato’s Gorgias, involv[ing] a kind of shaming as an integral part of deliberation and debate,…” The word, “elenchos, which is used to describe Socrates’ incessant questioning of everyone he meets, means both a disgrace or dishonor and a cross-examination for purposes of disproof or refutation. That lack of grace and honor lies in one’s lack, and rejection, of skepticism—emotionally clinging to one’s self-contradictory, inaccurate (and perhaps destructive) idealizations, instead of rationally acknowledging the illogic in one’s position, and modifying one’s argument accordingly.

No, what I’m thinking about isn’t a reasoned pursuit and reflection of what is true or false, good or bad; what I’m trying to get at is an emotive self-defense against a sense of de-valorization, an existential rejection, a de-validization, that violates and breaks bonding (familial or national).

A person feeling that kind of shaming might pretend to change, under the immediate pressure, especially if the shaming happens in public. But it seems more likely that the unwanted (by the shamer) behavior is reinforced as a neurological pattern, in the shamee, by recognition, attention, emphasis, and/or resentment. If the behavior does actually change, the cause is not a moral or social “shame,” or sense of dis-grace, much less a reasoned understanding; but rather the cause is the overwhelming application of emotive power by the shamer, including the threat of being ostracized from the community of human worth. The shamee is simply being forced to change, outwardly, under fear of emotional punishment.

Indeed Plato’s Socrates apparently (at least ideally) was careful not to evoke that kind of emotional embarrassment [etymologically the cutting off from air *] of being wrong, and therefore inferior, that pushes a person to try to hide his flaw, even to double down and lash out, with a “You’re the puppet, Hillary. You ought to be ashamed.” (All the more shameful, that she doesn’t feel shame, maybe isn’t even capable of that human response.)

I’m guessing that T, himself, is so dreadfully vulnerable to a sense of personally annihilating public shame that he simply must protect himself by annihilating his opponent, who, to him, is his shamer, and for that reason ought to feel ashamed. Thus, emotionally unable to accept an “error” in his thinking or actions, he projects.

Another example: his personal fame is very valuable to him (perhaps in overcompensation for his fear of being shamed into nonexistence?); for instance, in his mind it bestows sexual carte blanche that justifies his groping of women, which he knows might be considered misbehavior, by some, although not by the woman groped. When he is publically exposed and shamed for it—for doing it and for thinking that way, he dismisses his victims by saying that they are accusing him to gain fame.

Shaming is, after all, one of Trump’s most loathsome tactics for making someone vulnerable so that he can assert his superiority and control over them. He makes everybody (incl Tvoters) feel ashamed of themselves, and then he directs their rage at somebody else who ought to feel ashamed but is shaming them. I can tell him that he should be ashamed of himself for treating people like that. Futile.

People simply don’t shame well.

So (and for me this is a an ordeal), even if it turns out that T has been active in sex trafficking of teenage girls, the appropriate response is not shaming (and especially of his victims).

How many men understand, in themselves, these Trump scenarios? How many men and women see T being shamed for wanting to keep out illegal immigrants that they also want to keep out, for what they see as obvious good reasons? How many see him shamed for being a racist, when his honesty about race makes perfect sense to them? And how many, rather than Socratically critiquing their own impulses and T’s behavior, feel sufficiently shamed, in so much of their lives, to emotionally become Tvoters?

Like anyone else, they do not want to feel ashamed, of themselves. They want a president who will end all that. In the most simplistic way. They want to feel great again. They cling to the idealization of themselves that is provided by The Big Shamer.

What will T, and what will Republicans use them for, after the election? How will Hillary (that shaming shameful Hillary) become acknowledged as their president? And what if she doesn’t?

As Adam Haslett concludes, in his brilliant article on shame in current American politics:

This is the divide. This is the choice. Make shame—your own and others’—into a weapon, as these men have done [T et al.], and you get the closest thing to fascism we’ve had in the country since the 1930s. Create the room for shame’s articulation, and therefore a recognition of our commonality, and you have at least a shot at the working basis for an ameliorative democracy.

But why is shame such a potent weapon for control of others? Because it can bring down anything that tries to fly, by destroying all of its defenses and turning the target upon itself. I’m going to try to think about that on one more page. Wish me luck.

* From the Portuguese, em + baraçar, to put a noose around one’s neck and tighten it, cutting off air and causing the cheeks to flush with blood; block; punish; nullify (I’m only partly kidding).

[Page 1 of this episode.]

[Update 10-29:

Okay okay, Milbank does have a point here, and I realize that he is using the “wall of shame” as a satirical device for calling out some persons who are too recklessly stupid to know that they point the way to the “Basement of Unintelligence” (Bunyan, Pilgrim’s Progress). Or maybe that’s just their excuse. Milbank should also do a Dantean take on the World Poker Players’ ring, featuring Robert Mercer.

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