Connect with us

New Social Compact

Honor, Ethics, Shame, Guilt and Civilization

Emanuel L. Paparella, Ph.D.

Published

on

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.

Professor Paparella has earned a Ph.D. in Italian Humanism, with a dissertation on the philosopher of history Giambattista Vico, from Yale University. He is a scholar interested in current relevant philosophical, political and cultural issues; the author of numerous essays and books on the EU cultural identity among which A New Europe in search of its Soul, and Europa: An Idea and a Journey. Presently he teaches philosophy and humanities at Barry University, Miami, Florida. He is a prolific writer and has written hundreds of essays for both traditional academic and on-line magazines among which Metanexus and Ovi. One of his current works in progress is a book dealing with the issue of cultural identity within the phenomenon of “the neo-immigrant” exhibited by an international global economy strong on positivism and utilitarianism and weak on humanism and ideals.

New Social Compact

Nairobi summit: Women’s empowerment a ‘game changer’ for sustainable development

MD Staff

Published

on

UN Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, addresses the 25th Anniversary of the ICPD in Nairobi, Kenya. Photo: UNFPA

The global goal of a sustainable future for all cannot be achieved until women, girls and young people gain control over their own bodies and lives, UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed told world leaders meeting in Nairobi on Tuesday.

The Kenyan capital is hosting a three-day summit to mark 25 years since the landmark International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD).

The conference, held in Cairo, produced a Programme of Action which recognized that reproductive health, women’s empowerment and gender equality are critical to sustainable development.

Ms. Mohammed said it must be carried forward: “Achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment and upholding women’s rights is a game changer – for poverty-reduction, inclusive growth, democratic governance, peace and justice,” she said.

“The Sustainable Development Goals cannot be achieved until women, girls and young people are able to control their bodies and their lives, and live free of violence. The power to choose the number, timing and spacing of children is a human right that can bolster economic and social development.”

SDGs deadline approaching 

For Ms. Mohammed, the Nairobi Summit is also an opportunity to mobilize political and financial momentum towards realizing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by world leaders in 2015. 

Next year will see the start of a Decade of Action ahead of the 2030 deadline. 

“We must continue to work  even harder towards preventable maternal and child mortality, achieving the unmet need for family planning, and eliminating violence and harmful practices against women and girls everywhere, not least in humanitarian and fragile settings,” the UN deputy chief told the gathering. 

As too many are still being left behind, Ms. Mohammed called for action. 

“Hundreds of millions of women and girls are still waiting for the promise to be kept. They have been waiting long enough,” she said. 

“It’s time for urgent and transformative change as we enter the decade of action to 2030. 

Continue Reading

New Social Compact

Joker &the Pathology of Violence

Published

on

image: Warner Bros

JOKER, director Todd Phillips and renowned actor Joaquin Phoenix’s new take on an infamous comic book villain, will hit the big screen this weekend.  It has garnered prestigious awards (such as the Golden Lion), laudatory critic reviews & is expected to attract hordes of eager moviegoers.  However, JOKER has also inspired ominous think-pieces from publications such as The Atlantic and Vox.  Additionally, the US military and the NYPD have expressed concern that the film could inspire violence.

These detractors of JOKER are arguing that the film glorifies “incel violence” and is thus likely to inspire acts as incel violence.  This logic has been used ad nauseam to condemn everything from comic books, to video games, to martial arts, to Marilyn Manson to hip-hop.  No credible study has proven that art that portrays violence causes real-world violence.  Some people may point out that extreme outliers, like white-supremacist music, could cause violence.  However, it would be more logical to argue the opposite: people who compose and listen to white-supremacist music were already enmeshed in a violent ideology.  Likewise, genocidal propaganda tends not to focus on explicitly glorifying violence for violence’s sake, but in portraying groups of people as sub-human (Tutsis being compared to roaches, Jews being portrayed as greedy and treasonous, etc.).  It’s thus a process of long, gradated inculcation.  As Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels realized, there’s no reverse-Ludovico Technique that can magically turn people into killing machines by quickly showing them a two-hour film.

Now, it is true that a few violent criminals have cited works of art as inspiration for their actions.  This is statistically inevitable, but insignificant.  There are bound to be a few outliers who have bizarre interpretations on art, just as there are a few people who have been inspired to commit acts of terrorism based on personal interpretations of religion or politics.  It’s no more logical to suggest that we ban violent video games or art because of mass shootings than to suggest we ban Buddhism because of Aum Shinrikyo’s gas attack on the Tokyo subway, or that we should ban Irish patriotism because of the IRA.  Furthermore, some violent lunatics have been inspired by works of art, such as John Lennon’s killer citing Catcher in the Rye, that aren’t even violent in nature.  Clearly, the people who commit mass killings are incredibly unhinged individuals who are in a violent frame of mind, regardless of what media they consume.  Likewise, 99.99% of people who play FPS games or who watch slasher flicks aren’t going to go on a shooting rampage or create a torture dungeon in their basement.

To return things to JOKER itself, the film in no way “glorifies” violence.  For starters, half of the violence is inflicted on the main character (the “incel hero”); there are two scenes where The Joker gets jumped mercilessly and a third scene where he gets sucker-punched in the face.  The violent acts that The Joker himself commits are portrayed in a very gruesome manner (in one scene with The Joker and a neighbor of his, the violence isn’t even shown, but is merely implied).  When The Joker bashes someone’s head in or shoots someone point-blank, there are no crass jokes, inspirational music or voiceovers quoting The Art of War. The plotline doesn’t imply any justification for the killings.  When someone gets killed in the film, audience-goers don’t hoot and holler like they would in a screening of a zombie film or a Nazi-revenge flick like Inglorious Basterds.  Rather, there is an awkward pall of silence in the theater at the nihilistic spectacle.

JOKER makes it very clear that the title character’s violence is motivated by nothing but his utter insanity.  The Joker descends into a killing machine after being released from an asylum and after he stops taking seven different psych meds (which weren’t helping him much, anyway).  When being interviewed, he admits that he isn’t compelled by any ideology whatsoever.  Rather, The Joker literally views the act of killing as a joke. 

Nor does The Joker gain any tangible reward for his violence; he gets fired from his job, arrested, hit by an ambulance and committed to an asylum as a direct result of his actions. Joaquin Phoenix’s character gets a thrill from the media coverage that his killings elicit (and a standing ovation from fellow thugs in the film’s penultimate scene), but that not’s a real reward, but rather a feeling that many real-life killers in fact get when they are portrayed in the news.  For instance, the as-yet unidentified Zodiac Killer literally played games with Bay Area news outlets, sending them letters that boasted about his kills, contained cryptic puzzles and threatened to blow up a school bus if he didn’t receive even more media attention.  Many other serial killers who were apprehended were found to have hoarded newspaper clippings that documented their crimes.  Similarly, coverage of a mass shooting often inspires “copycat mass shootings”.  The takeaway from this is that the media should be careful about inadvertently turning stories about mass shootings and terror attacks into personal biographies of the killer.  When covering these kinds of attacks, some news outlets, like The Young Turks and The David Pakman Show, deliberately choose to blur the killers’ faces and avoid naming them, so as not to give the killers the attention that they wanted to garner and to avoid inspiring other violently-deranged individuals who crave attention.

The fact that JOKER doesn’t merely portray the villain as an Evil-Incarnate caricature doesn’t mean that it is therefore glorifying violence.  The audience is meant to sympathize with The Joker when he get jumped without warning or when he talks about the crippling depression that he has felt for literally his entire life.  There are scenes showing The Joker comforting his mother and entertaining sick children.  The mere fact that The Joker is portrayed as a full human being, good traits and bad traits, doesn’t mean the film is justifying how he releases his violent rage.  No human is evil 100% of the time: there is no villain who tortures hamsters 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  It is only by studying the causes of violent criminals’ various motivations that we can ever hope to ebb the tide of violence.  Most violent criminals have suffered from childhood abuse, childhood poverty, a missing parental figure, bullying and/or mental illness (The Joker had to deal with all five of these traumas).  By empathizing with these plights, we can create programs (drug treatment programs, stamping out bullying in school, removing children from abusive households, etc.) that can reduce violent crime.

It’s not comfortable to acknowledge that history’s most evil people had humanity or that societal norms (like persecuting people, tolerating child abuse or underfunding mental illness and addiction treatment programs) can fuel violence.  It’s evident that Todd Phillips, through his direction and screenplay, and Joaquin Phoenix, through his tortured portrayal of The Joker, meant to give us a glimpse into the mind of a demented killer, not so we can sympathize with the protagonist’s brutal violence, but so we can sympathize with the myriad factors that drove the protagonist to criminal insanity.  The nearly uniform media portrayals of mentally-ill individuals as Pure Evil only serves to misinform the public and to scare those suffering from mental disorders from seeking help.  Hopefully, the discussions being generated by JOKER will encourage people to learn more about complex diseases like schizophrenia and to be more proactive in reaching out to loved ones who are displaying signs of mental anguish.

Continue Reading

New Social Compact

Women outnumber men in higher education but gender stereotyped subject choices persist

MD Staff

Published

on

Education is essential to achieving gender equality. From the earliest schooling to the highest levels of post-graduate study, education influences the opportunities that can shape people’s lives.

This is why education and training of women is one of the 12 critical areas of concern in the Beijing Platform for Action, while target 4.5 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) calls for the elimination of gender disparities in education by 2030.

In the UNECE region girls tend to outperform boys in terms of learning outcomes in schools, and women outnumber men in tertiary education (university level and beyond) in almost all countries of the region.

Women remain in the minority, however, as students of stereotypically “masculine” subjects such as ICT and engineering, although in recent years they have begun slowly gaining ground.

Tertiary level graduates

In 39 out of the 47 UNECE countries with data, more than 55 per cent of tertiary graduates are women. Iceland has the highest share, with 66 per cent women.  Seven countries are close to gender parity, with the share of women ranging from 48 to 55 per cent, and only in Uzbekistan are women in a clear minority, with 38 per cent of tertiary graduates.

After decades of increase in women’s participation in higher education, women substantially outnumbered men among tertiary level graduates in most countries by 2012. Since then, women’s share has declined in 32 out of the 47 countries with data. Whilst in Azerbaijan and Turkey fewer than half of tertiary graduates were women in 2012, more women have entered tertiary education in these countries since and the 2017 data already show gender parity there. 

Subject choices of women and men

The subjects studied at tertiary level by women and men can reflect stereotypes of “masculine” and “feminine” subject areas. Some subjects may be preferred by potential employers and may affect occupational segregation once graduates enter the labour market. Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) and Engineering, Manufacturing and Construction (EMC) are two broad groups of subjects where male students have historically predominated.

Women remain a minority among ICT students in the UNECE region, with percentages ranging from 11 in Belgium to 33 in Greece. The four countries with the largest share of women among ICT students are all in the Balkan region. Among students of EMC, the share of women is somewhat higher, but still falls far short of parity, ranging from 14 per cent in Georgia to 44 per cent in North Macedonia.

In both of these subject groups, the recent trend shows small gains for women in some countries but reductions in others. Overall, progress towards gender equality in these two typically male-dominated subject areas is uneven and slow.

UNECE Beijing+25 Regional Review Meeting

Progress in achieving gender equality in education will be one of the areas in focus at the upcoming Beijing+25 Regional Review Meeting for the UNECE region, with a particular emphasis on how women and girls can enter currently male-dominated fields.

The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action of 1995 (Beijing Platform for Action) is the most ambitious road map for the empowerment of women and girls everywhere. In 2020, it will be 25 years since the Beijing Platform for Action outlined how to overcome the systemic barriers that hold women back from equal participation in all areas of life. 

The Beijing+25 Regional Review Meeting (29-30 October 2019) will take stock of where the UNECE region stands on keeping the promises of the Beijing Platform for Action. Bringing together government representatives and key stakeholders from the UNECE region, the meeting will tackle a number of obstacles that keep girls and women from realizing their full potential. UNECE is joining forces with the UN Women Regional Office for Europe and Central Asia to deliver a two-day multi-stakeholder meeting to exchange concrete policies to accelerate the realization of gender equality. The outcomes of the meeting will feed into the global review of the Beijing Platform for Action taking place at the sixty-fourth session of the Commission on the Status of Women in New York from 9 to 20 March 2020.

Continue Reading

Latest

African Renaissance5 hours ago

The way out of apartheid South Africa

Miss Gilbey taught Speech and Drama. Every Friday afternoon as the car speeded down the highway en route to her...

Europe7 hours ago

Why German car giant Volkswagen should drop Turkey

War and aggression are not only questions of ethics and humanitarian disaster. They are bad news for business. The German...

Middle East9 hours ago

Iran’s next parliamentary election hinges on economic problems, US sanctions effective

It seems any faction focuses on solving the economic problems, has more chance for victory in the parliamentary elections. The...

Reports11 hours ago

Brazil must immediately end threats to independence and capacity of law enforcement to fight corruption

The OECD Working Group on Bribery urges Brazil, one of the founding Parties to the Anti-Bribery Convention since 1997, to...

Europe13 hours ago

The future of Brexit: Where will Boris Johnson’s “fatal strategy” lead Britain to?

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will attempt to negotiate a new deal with the EU on Brexit in the course...

Travel & Leisure14 hours ago

Hilton’s Hidden Gems Series: Bentonville, Arkansas

The first Hidden Gem of the series is Bentonville, Arkansas (yes, the home of Walmart, though that wasn’t a factor...

Europe17 hours ago

Bulgarian far-right to shut down largest human rights NGO in Bulgaria

“Why don’t they defend those who get robbed? Why are they only defending those that have trouble with the police?...

Trending

Copyright © 2019 Modern Diplomacy