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.
de Ralph Maddocks