Montréal, le 23 janvier 1999
Numéro 29
(page 6)
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            Vos commentaires           
 by Ralph Maddocks
          In the last issue of QL we were reminded of the hypocrisy attending the demise of a terrorist bomber and the encomiums heaped upon him by Quebec's unthinking, self-described, intelligentsia. Murder in the « right » cause is somehow acceptable. 
          Thirty years ago, a Japanese friend remarked that we occidentals have a highly developed sense of sin whereas orientals have a highly developed sense of shame. A truly insightful remark. During the intervening years, the West has certainly not acquired this Japanese characteristic. In Japan, a year or so ago, we were treated to the sight of Shohei Nozawa, the chairman of the bankrupt securities firm, Yamaichi, weeping and bowing his head in remorse and humiliation as he apologized for the collapse of his company. Shame is still alive and well in Japan.
          When was the last time you saw a company head accepting, publicly, such responsibility for failure? Certainly not in this country, or elsewhere in the western world as far as I know. It didn't happen in connection with last year's ice storm or the previous year's floods in the Saguenay.  
Shame is out 
          It didn't happen in England when the biggest case of corporate malfeasance, the Guinness scandal, became known nearly twenty years ago. The chief executive of that company was convicted of illegal share manipulation during a bid for a rival company. He has never admitted to any shame for his actions and is today back in business. We didn't see it a few years ago when the old established Baring's bank went bankrupt, following the scandal of a Far Eastern stock trader who cost them £850 million or over $2 billion in losses. In fact, it seemed that the directors were far more interested in making sure that they got their bonuses than in accepting responsibility, let alone expressing shame. Such are our times that a film is now being made based upon the book written by the imprisoned trader. What ought to be a humiliating recital has become light entertainment.  
          About a year ago, we were treated to the sight of an ousted Canadian senator expressing pleasure over his expulsion from the Liberal caucus, the result of his not having attended many sittings during the last seven years. A period when he earned over half a million dollars in salary and some $ 80 000 in expenses. Now that he has finally resigned, he receives an indexed pension of about $ 40 000! While he appeared to have been singled out because of his appalling attendance record, it seems that there were other senators whose attendance records were hardly any better. The incident led to much justified criticism, including calls for abolition, of the unelected Senate. It might be interesting to see how our elected members of parliament might fare in the attendance stakes. 

          Our elected politicians are not excluded from this trend towards declining responsibility. Just think about Canada in recent times where we have seen the frantic jostling among politicians to avoid any responsibility for either the Somalia Inquiry, the Hepatitis C scandal or the treatment of dissidents at the APEC conference in Vancouver.  
          When I was growing up in England, during the thirties and forties, it seemed that there were very clearly defined standards of both public and private behaviour. Public drunkenness, abortion, illegitimacy, drug addiction, bankruptcy, hitting women, being accused of a crime, being unemployed or getting divorced were acts which brought instant social disapproval. In addition some, if not most, of these acts were sins and required private if not public contrition. 
« Inappropriate lifestyle choices » are in 
          How different are today's criteria! Today, political correctness, consumerism and vanity are more important. Don't wear animal fur, don't smoke, don't eat meat, don't be fat etc. You can commit adultery, but don't do it wearing a fur coat and, whatever you do, don't indulge in a post-coital cigarette. Personal failings have become habits to be exploited by this « shameless » society in which we live. Go on US television and they will applaud you if you admit that you have slept with one or the other of your parents, your child or your domestic pet. People make the most appalling admissions and are acclaimed for it. There is no sense of shame in the West, and certainly little sense of sin anymore.  
          Prominent, divorced, politicians, drunk in charge of an automobile, kill vagrants without the slightest murmur of public condemnation. Others are caught « in flagrante delicto » with garments they didn't pay for, and then become popular public figures. The USA is of course leading the way in this degeneration of public morality, with promiscuous televangelists and prominent politicians beating their breasts in public; before going off to continue their aberrant behaviour out of the limelight.  

          The Clinton presidency with its activities of great prurient interest to the people has not changed anything. The US president is completely lacking in any sense of shame and honour, otherwise he would not be dragging his country through such an unseemly exhibition which has sadly brought out the worst excesses of political partisanship. Should similar investigations at that level of minutiae be conducted into the sexual conduct of all the members of the US House of Representatives and Senate, we should doubtless need to reduce drastically the quorum requirements for those bodies. The « shame », if any, seems to be in getting caught. 
          Television, which in the fifties tried to make us feel embarrassed with advertisements about Halitosis and BO, seems, in this decade, to be spending much of its time trying to make consumers feel good about their weaknesses. The removal of shame from single parenthood is said to have contributed to the explosion of illegitimacy in poor US communities. Children are no longer instructed about the difference between right and wrong, or the shame which used to accompany the latter. They are told instead to have « self-esteem » above all else. The very word « shame » is disappearing from our language. The concept of « wrong » has become « inappropriate » and « bad habits » have become « lifestyle choices ». 
          This loss of shame may represent a gain for freedom. But without shame as an informal, sometimes self-inflicted, punishment for those who break the rules, we are seeing more and more governments adopting heavy-handed and restrictive measures. The great irony of this shame-free, rule-free society is that it is needing more and more laws to keep it in check. 
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