A shame culture, as the dictionary defines it, involves a society putting “high emphasis on preserving honor” and not being publicly disgraced.” People conform to societal norms, independent form the fact that those norms may be just social customs having little to do with ethics, for the mere fear of being shamed or dishonored publicly.
In contrast to that we have a guilt culture which the dictionary defines as “the internalization of a moral code.” This conformity to a moral code occurs through the free will of man rather than by the public approval of society.
For example, in Homer’s epic The Iliad, what is most valued is honor. To obtain it and the honor that goes with it one must do glorious deeds (such as fighting as a great warrior would), or, more intellectually, be a great orator, speaking well in the assembly and being highly skilled with words; or being a great philosopher like Socrates or Plato or Aristotle. Thus one acquires goods and rewards that publicly signify and represent the honor conferred: medals, certificates, diplomas, honorary titles, etc., attesting to the merits and the superiority of one individual man over another.
In contrast we can observe that in The Histories of Herodotus the social world is less dominated by aspects of shame; more emphasis is placed on guilt. Instead of being publicly shamed into following certain social norms, the individual compels a code of conduct or morality on him/herself, motivated by the guilt she/he feels for not observing society’s condoned behaviors. He may even observe such a code even were he living in isolation from any kind of organized governed society, even absent punishments by the police and the justice system for infractions of the law.
This difference can even be easily observed in the depictions of the gods within those two disparate societies: one based on shame and honor, the other based on guilt and duty to oneself and one’s human nature. For example, in Homer’s Iliad the gods are present everywhere anthropomorphically, with all the weaknesses and defects of men, to be sure, albeit their powers and virtues are superior to man, idealized, so to speak. It’s the modern Nietzchean “Uberman” or the Freudian “Superego” being actualized mythically and poetically. The gods are almost “beyond good and evil,” above moral norms, transcending mere human customs and behavior. Hence the famous Platonic question: are the gods good because they observe the law, or are they good because they are above the law; are they obliged by the law and morality as humans are? But in Herodotus’ Histories, the gods appear very rarely and, rather than being depicted as humans with extraordinary superpowers, are strangely portrayed in ways that would suggest human behavioral norms.
Jumping now to modern times, Giambattista Vico in his New Science (1725) teaches us that a sign of a decaying civilization is the degradation and impoverishment of language, language being a sine qua non of any sort of civilization and indeed an integral part of being human. But there are two other important characteristics which are also part of human nature: the ability to laugh and the ability to feel shame. Here too, when those two characteristics wane, so does civilization.
I’d like to reflect briefly on the latter within the context of our present cultural predicaments. The initial inquiry is this: is shame natural to man or is it something acquired with culture? The answer to that question is crucial since it determines whether or not it is shamelessness that is the acquired trait. To put it another way: could it be that the beauty that we humans are capable of as we live with each other derives from the fact that man is naturally a blushing creature; the only creature in fact capable of blushing?
Plato for one, saw a connection between self-restraint and self-government or democracy, and therefore he saw a political danger in promoting the fullest self-expression or indulgence. That may explain his suspicions of artists in general. For Plato, to live together requires rules and a governing of the passions. Those who live without shame are unruly and unrulable. That is to say, they have lost the ability to restrain themselves by the observation of the rules they collectively have given themselves. One can easily extrapolate from The Republic that tyranny is the natural mode of government for the shameless and the self-indulgent; the government of those who have carried liberty beyond any sort of restraint, be it natural or conventional.
What the ancient Greeks were saying basically, was that democracy, more than any other form of government requires self-restraint to be inculcated through moral education and imposed through laws. Those laws include the manner of public amusement. Indeed, it would be enough to think of Rome under such tyrannical emperors as Caligula or Nero. Those emperors allowed the people to freely indulge themselves with bread and circus, for indulgence did not threaten their rule which did not depend on citizens of good character. The formula is here inverted: the more debased the citizenry, the more they are distracted by pleasurable activities, the safer the tyrant’s rule is.
And here we come to what is obscene and offensive. What are we to make of the obscenity employed by some of the greatest of our poets, the likes of Aristophanes, Dante, Chaucer, Shakespeare and Swift, never mind the Marquis de Sade, just to mention a few. They wrote a good deal of obscenity. How do we account for that? Aristotle in his Poetics hints at a plausible answer: comedy makes us laugh at what is ludicrous in ugliness, and its purpose is to teach, just as tragedy teaches by making us cry before what is destructive in nobility. For Aristotle they are equally serious and Shakespeare would agree, for he was both a comic and a tragic poet. Which is not to imply that both Aristotle and Shakespeare were unable to discern the emperor wearing no clothes, and performing unnatural acts to boot. Nowadays we have an emperor who goes around naked of any moral sensibilities but want us to believe that he is wearing splendid clothes. A few people, the more courageous among us, have dare to yell “the emperor is naked,”
What artists such as Mapplethorpe have attempted in the brave new world of present day Western civilization is to aestheticize the obscene by deliberately choosing subjects that shock the normal sense of decency. Those artists count on and exploit a dual reaction: to create tension in the viewer so that what is indecent and immoral becomes beautiful and therefore especially disturbing. The pretension is that the emperor is not naked, that obscenity is not there; that it resides only in the dirty minds of the viewers who are unable to appreciate beauty. What those artists are doing in effect is to deny the viewers their right to be shocked when they try hard to do exactly that. It’s having the cake and eating it too.
The “enlightened” modern art connoisseur and practitioner will of course retort: but this is art and art is free of any constraints! Indeed, it is but let us be honest with ourselves and admit that indeed great art may be used immorally for the furtherance of an ideology or for propaganda purposes (remember the film about Hitler Triumph of the Will?), just as a saint may produce banal art, for as Emmanuel Kant has taught us in his Critique of Judgment there is no strict nexus between the moral and the aesthetic and there is no need for morality to slavishly submit to the claims of Art. The public ought to remain free to subsidize or not to subsidize those “enlightened” modern artist without being branded “cultural philistines” by those who think that anything goes in art.
The ancient Greeks were also aware that those aspects of the soul that makes man truly human require political life. Man’s virtues and their counterparts, man’s vices, require that he be governed and to govern. But the poet knows with Rousseau and the romantics that there is a beauty beyond the polity, the beauty of the natural order. The world of convention is not the only world. Here obscenity may play a part. Obscenity can indeed be used to ridicule the conventional. In the hands of a poet obscenity can serve to elevate above the conventional order in which most of us are forced to live our mundane lives full of quite desperation; lives who never dare ask that dreadful existential question: what is the point of it all, which the Greeks rendered with one word: the Logos. Which is to say, in the hands of a poet, obscenity’s purpose becomes that of teaching what is truly beautiful, not what convention holds to be beautiful.
How to express a distinction between the justified and the unjustified use of obscenity in a rule of law is easier said than done. Certainly children are not capable of the distinction, they cannot grasp irony, and need to be protected. One thing is sure though, there are dire consequences resulting from he inability to distinguish between the proper and the improper use of obscenity. When the distinction is forgotten, when we conclude that shame itself is unnatural, that we must get rid of our hang ups and give up the conventions devised by hypocrites, that there are no judgments to be made, that nothing that is appropriate in one place is inappropriate in another place (for just as a dog is not prevented from copulating in the market place, so it is unnatural to deprive men of the same pleasure were it only that of the voyeur in a theater) we will then also have forgotten the distinction between art and trash; that is to say, we will have made ourselves shameless.
N.B. This article, in a slightly modified form first appeared on May 4, 2009 in Ovi magazine. It was relevant then, it is even more relevant today. Obviously things are not progressing morally.
The Secret Gender plague: How The World’s Men Hate Women
In the now famous and well-recognized #MeToo era in America, the call to eliminate sexual harassment in the workplace and beyond has brought much needed new attention to gender issues in the United States, with more than a few prominent firings and public humiliations of celebrities within media and entertainment. While there is no doubt this movement was long overdue in high-level boardrooms and executive ladders across America (and still needs to continue its corrective cleansing), it is not a misdirection to remind people that the fight for gender ‘decency’ still remains woefully under-covered and under-recognized by most of the Western world. This is not a misnomer: before we can begin to discuss gender equality, there are still too many places that do not even come close to having gender decency.
Perhaps even more disturbing, when one does a simple but powerful examination across many different human rights, philanthropic, and security organizations, is that we find a plethora of ratings in which the horrible plight of women around the world have been categorized and assessed. What has not been done up to now is an amalgamation of many of these rankings to try and give a more complex and holistic 50,000-foot view of women around the world. Unfortunately, this amalgamation paints a rather stark picture that few people seem to be aware of. Even more depressing, when the ranking categories are allowed to be truly diverse, the dark richness of countries represented is shocking: most in the West will not be surprised to find certain countries in sub-Saharan Africa or Islamic authoritarian states to make lists that lament the plight of women as concerns gender equality. But the following rankings show that this problem is by no means an African or Arab-dominated issue. It is truly a global plague that seems stubbornly resistant to remedies, let alone cures. So, let us take a view at the dark side of the gender fight, for only in recognizing the severity of the problem will true resolutions ever come to light.
One of the more famous human rights organizations in the world, this Amnesty International ranking was a good place to start simply because it emphasizes the most explicit and disturbing form of gender inequality: direct violence perpetrated against women. This list is also something of a ‘Western conventional wisdom’ baseline, in that the so-called usual suspects are on it, including Afghanistan, the DRC, Pakistan, and Somalia. Perhaps the one ‘surprise’ on the list for those not truly investigating the issue would be the inclusion of India. It is an important inclusion, however, given the sexual and family violence issues that still plague many areas of India, especially rural and semi-rural areas. It is also good for people to realize that the worst places for women are not just automatically the places torn apart by war, anarchy, or corruption.
Amnesty International (via Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Gender violence
2.Democratic Republic of Congo
A relatively new but influential player on the gender issue scene is Georgetown’s Institute for Women. Its ranking for health and safety is important because it is more inclusive of female health problems in their totality. Not surprisingly, these rankings reflect countries that have seen a total breakdown of societal welfare because of war, internal strife, corruption, and health epidemics.
Georgetown Institute for Women – Health and safety
5.Central African Republic
The Global Citizen political freedom rankings are interesting because of two entries that do not often make the usual discussions: Honduras and Egypt. When you examine the details of why these two countries made it, it is clear that both have for too long been excluded from serious gender discussions. It is also important, as we shall see below, to know that many countries within Latin America need a brighter light flashed upon them for their increasingly shoddy treatment of women across numerous categories.
Global Citizen – Political freedom
3.Democratic Republic of Congo
While most are familiar with Marie Claire as a women’s magazine with a long history of less-serious discussions, it did nevertheless come out recently with its own gender equity ranking for countries around the world. It was included simply because of its rather novel interpretations of how to recognize and evaluate inequality, focusing on more subtle discrimination rather than on more direct and explicit forms. With this done, a rather fascinating list emerges, with countries like Nepal, Peru, and Turkey making the list (something we rarely see for any of these countries in other rankings).
Marie Claire – Gender Equity
While few know about the WEF organization, its focus on education and how it impacts gender issues and female opportunity is especially pertinent. The ability for women to grow, prosper, and lead independent financial lives is a crucial element often neglected around the world because of more pressing immediate concerns for physical safety and political equality. But when the issue of education is examined through a gender lens, we once again find a mix of the usual suspects with relative newcomers not often found on gender watchdog lists, in this case Chad and Iran.
World Atlas’ female political representation rankings were fascinating largely because of the fact that it was the one list that was largely made up entirely of countries very few people know about and rarely see connected to major gender issues. Of the six below, only Yemen is a common entrant (and honestly some might find that entry somewhat mitigated by the internal war going on there which has resulted in an almost complete shutdown of regular governmental and societal welfare institutions/services), with Qatar being joined by countries from the South Pacific: Palau, Micronesia, Tonga, and Vanuatu. Most depressing, it does not mean regions like the Middle East and Africa are doing a great job at female political representation. It just means another region of the world few know about is doing even worse.
World Atlas – Female Political Representation
5.Yemen and Vanuatu
Perhaps the most controversial ranking was left for last, the Small Arms Survey for femicide (the purposeful and blatant murder of women on account of gender). While it may not surprise everyone to finally see the Russian Federation appear on this list, given common Western media portrayals of that society as being particularly harsh and unforgiving towards women in general, it should be a shock to see so many Latin American countries dominate the list. The reality is that countries like El Salvador and Guatemala are not alone, with many other Latin American countries making the list in the 6-15 spots. But perhaps most disheartening of all, this ranking achieves the greatest global diversity, with Latin America, the Caribbean, Europe, and Africa all represented by individual countries.
Small Arms Survey – Femicide
In a way, the femicide rankings are a microcosm of the gender issue overall: it is truly a global affliction that needs more recognition and more serious warriors willing to engage the fight. This affliction knows no geographical boundaries and is not exclusive to a particular culture, religion, economic status, or political system. It seems uniquely universal, in that men the world over seem united in expressing their hatred or disdain for women in devastatingly rich and comprehensive ways. Ultimately, our failure to produce these new gender warriors (and they need to be from both genders, not just women, to be sure) is not just a failure for women or for gender equality. It is a failure of us all as a society when it comes to human compassion and dignity. It is a core failure of human decency. It is the failure to be human.
Work or Family: Sri Lankan Women Shouldn’t Have to Choose
Only 3 years separated the births of Fazeela Dharmaratne’s son Nethwin, and her daughter Pravindi. However, in just that time a lot of things changed for their mother. “When I had my kids, I somehow managed to devote a lot of quality time to my son, but when it came to my daughter, I was so busy I felt I ended up neglecting her a little.”
As a young woman, Fazeela joined a bank in Colombo straight out of school, securing a position as a banking assistant. Over the course of 17 years on the job, she climbed up the ladder till she was a Regional Manager, responsible for a cluster of branches.
In 2012, determined to spend more time with her children, she eventually opted for a voluntary separation scheme and went to work on something new – she bought her first preschool and day-care. It was a small home-based operation with only four or five children, but it was a start. It gave her a chance to learn the business from the ground up.
Reliable Childcare Makes a Huge Difference
Today, Fazeela is the director of the CeeBees pre-school and childcare centres and operates corporate crèches for clients like MAS Kreeda, MillenniumIT and WSO2 in Colombo.
The crèches allow employees to access childcare services so that mothers can breastfeed their infants, or stay late to participate in a conference call; when the school holidays are on, the crèche lets the older siblings join in and the staff are willing to accept kids who aren’t regulars during emergencies, such as when a caregiver at home falls ill.
Fazeela offers these uncommon services because she understands intimately what working parents have to deal with. “I have gone through the same thing, holding down a position with a lot of responsibility and having to manage while trying to not feel guilty about my kids,” she says.
In fact, so great are the pressures, that having a child under age five at home makes Sri Lankan women 7.4 percent less likely to join the labour force than women without young children. A 2017 World Bank report Getting to Work: Unlocking Women’s Potential in Sri Lanka’s Labor Force, noted that this association is larger than it was in 2013, when childrearing meant women were 6 percent less likely to participate in the workforce.
Revealingly, the same study found that having young children had no significant effect on men’s prospects in the labour market.
Societal Attitudes Do Not Favor Working Mothers
At just 36.6% percent, Sri Lanka’s female labor force participation rate—a measure of the proportion of females above 15 working or actively looking for work—is discouragingly low.
Among the many challenges experienced by Sri Lankan women, household responsibilities, and especially childcare, remain significant deterrents.
As nuclear families become more common, women are less likely to have extended family living with them who can help raise their children. In addition, societal attitudes often do not favor working mothers.
“It can be a cost-benefit thing for women,” says Dileni Gunewardena, a Professor of Economics at the University of Peradeniya, adding, “sometimes the costs are not monetary – for instance a woman might have to deal with in-laws who disapprove of her working or she might be afraid of leaving her children with strangers.” Dileni thinks one solution is to challenge traditional, deep rooted ideas of what is seen as men’s work and women’s work, and to find ways to share the load.
Families also have to be able to trust crèches and day care centers enough to leave their children for the day. Sri Lanka’s expanding program of early childhood development centers could offer some women short-term relief, and a good accredited system could allay concerns around the quality of childcare offered.
What the Business Community Can Do
At MAS Kreeda Al Safi-Madaba in Jordan, absences due to sick leave have fallen by 9 percent after only 8 months since the on-site crèche was opened, according to IFC’s Tackling Childcare research. MAS co-founder Ajay Amalean says that providing childcare facilities has helped retain experienced employees, reduced absenteeism, and boosted employee satisfaction and loyalty, helping make his company a preferred employer for men and women both.
Amalean understands that having a crèche works for both parents, and even more so for single ones. Aside from the losses associated with absenteeism, high staff turnover is also a costly affair. Companies routinely underestimate the cost of replacing a trained and experienced employee, failing to account for separation, recruitment and selection, training and productivity costs such as the loss of institutional and client-network knowledge.
To address this, companies like Mindtree in India, have chosen to offer a range of childcare solutions. As a result, over 90 percent of Mindtree’s female employees return after maternity leave and over 87 percent of mothers are still with the company a year after their return, even though India has one of the lowest labor force participation rates for mothers in the world, including for highly educated women.
What can Sri Lankan corporates learn from such success stories?
Chiranthi Cooray, Chief Human Resources Officer, Hatton National Bank and Chairperson, Prime Minister’s Task Force for the FLFP Strategy pointed out that going forward it is critical for both the private and public sectors to implement regulations and provide incentives for the provision of high quality crèche and childcare services.
The task force noted that the law should be amended to allow for both maternal and paternal leave after childbirth, while public-private partnerships were essential to make sure that employers did not have to bear the full burden of the costs of offering such benefits. Research shows that where governments publicly provide or subsidize childcare for children under the age of primary education, women are more likely to receive wages. Support for parents—such as tax credits and the availability of childcare for young children—can increase women’s participation in the labour force.
Meanwhile, Ceebees is in its fifth year of operations. Fazeela says when a corporate client first approaches her, she tells them that supporting working parents needn’t be complicated. Companies can set up an infant crèche, for instance, that just takes one room but allows mothers to visit and feed their kids during the working day.
“There’s a lot that can be done. It’s just that decision-makers have to be passionate about supporting diversity,” says Fazeela. “It can’t be just about looking good on your HR awards application, you have to genuinely want to make a difference.”
Study: At least 2.5 million migrants were smuggled in 2016
According to the first ever Global Study on Smuggling of Migrants, released by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) on Wednesday, at least 2.5 million migrants were smuggled during the course of 2016.
Migrant smuggling occurred in all parts of the world, generated an income of up to $7 billion – equivalent to the amount the United States or the European Union spent on humanitarian aid that year – according to the UN agency that fights drugs and crime.
“This transnational crime preys on the most vulnerable of the vulnerable,” said Jean-Luc Lemahieu, UNODC Director of Policy Analysis and Public Affairs.
“It’s a global crime that requires global action, including improved regional and international cooperation and national criminal justice responses,” he added.
The study describes 30 major smuggling routes worldwide and finds that demand for smuggling services is particularly high among refugees who, for lack of other means, may need to use people-smugglers to reach a safe destination fleeing their countries of origin.
Data suggests that many smuggling routes include unaccompanied or separated children, who might be particularly vulnerable to deception and abuse by smugglers and others.
According to the UN migration agency IOM, smuggling results in thousands of deaths each year.
Many smuggled migrants die from drowning, whereas others perish due to accidents or extreme terrain and weather conditions. The Mediterranean appears to be the deadliest route, statistically, accounting for around 50 per cent of the total number of deaths.
Not only have some migrants been murdered along smuggling routes, they are also vulnerable to a range of other crimes, including violence, rape, kidnapping and trafficking in persons.
Turning to the gender composition, the study found that smuggled migrants are often influenced by the conditions they faced at home. Although most on the move are relatively young men, in parts of South-East Asia a large proportion are women.
According to the report, smuggling networks often engage in systematic corruption ranging from the local to the international level, and operate a range of schemes, including fake marriages or employment rackets; counterfeiting travel documents and the corruption of senior officials.
Smugglers often advertise their business in diaspora communities, refugee camps or through various social networks online, involving migrant groups.
Smaller-scale smugglers are either ethnically linked to their operating territories, or share ethnic or linguistic ties with the migrants they smuggle. Moreover, some successfully smuggled migrants, then become smugglers themselves.
When it comes to better strategies for reducing migrant smuggling, the report recommends that a holistic approach must go beyond geographical measures, and include making legal migration opportunities more accessible in origin countries and refugee camps; tackling smuggling networks; and raising awareness in origin communities are just a few ways to combat the scourge.
While data collection, analysis and research on migrant smuggling remain in their infancy, there is a clear need for a solid international body of knowledge to support policy making on migrant smuggling, along with improved data collection systems at the national, regional and international levels, according to the study.
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