I’ve been thinking about shame as a motivator/ social disciplinarian. Why do some people use shame instead of coercion? What has changed so that in the international system it is the question of shame that is becoming more important for some than that of force? I was thinking about Greece and the way the international system is attempting to use shame instead of other realpolitik moves to get them to comply with their financial ‘responsibilities’ and how this might have been different a few years ago. It may come to coercion, but it is the threat of default and the shame associated that seem the be the focus of the news currently. There is a tone of shaming in the characterizations of the economy and the finances that make it shameful to have gotten where they are. There have been a number of Economist articles/ podcasts about the way the Greek people ‘could’ get out of the hole quickly (implying that they are not because they cannot or will not make a hard decision). Of course, this ignores the other Eurozone issues that may have also contributed, but I’m not an economist and I don’t know. I guess my point is that shame seems to be increasingly a sanction tacitly used in IR and underpinned by the explosion of global media.
I was thinking about it in personal lives too. When we don’t want to say specifically ‘you can’t do this’ (or we don’t have the power to forbid) instead we use more subtle means that usually imply shame: ‘you shouldn’t do this’.
The funny thing is that this sort of soft power actually indicates so many things that are so much deeper. To have the ability to imply shame indicates a relationship in which the shamer inspires some sort of respect. If we were not an ‘us’ than my being ashamed or reprimanded holds no weight anyway. Who cares if someone totally unrelated to us says we should be ashamed. Who are they? Why do we care? Even if we have a relationship and I perceive myself as having higher status their shame becomes irrelevant because I am willing to deny that relationship, or see that their opinion is irrelevant because I have more power and their shame will not imply a loss to me.
But then, my personal incentive to want respect becomes even more important.
The other funny thing is that shame and pride are so closely intertwined. I’m (still) reading this book that Meghan gave me called Violence. It is a very good book although often very disturbing. The main thesis is the way that crime and punishment are much more closely linked than appear superficially. And that the culture of the US really is violent in premise. Not surprising that the people on the receiving end of things rolling downhill react. Not that it excuses their actions in any way. I don’t believe in the ‘total lack of individual agency because of the hegemony of structural power’ line. People always have choices. The issue is how limited those choices may appear to be and the tools that are furnished to overcome what seem like impossible situations. (*I’m coming back to this next)
This is way short, not fully reasoned out and I plan to come back to it but thought I would put it up there for people to think about in the interim.