Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Sorta political: Shame and honour

Instapundit links the following excerpt from a CEO's suicide note

with a David Brooks article about the problems with out current meritocracy:

Yet, as this meritocratic elite has taken over institutions, trust in them has plummeted. It’s not even clear that the brainy elite is doing a better job of running them than the old boys’ network. 
And that is interesting but what really struck me was how much the CEO's thinking confirmed a view that Brooks wants to counter:
Christopher Hayes of MSNBC and The Nation believes that the problem is inherent in the nature of meritocracies. In his book, “Twilight of the Elites,” he argues that meritocratic elites may rise on the basis of grades, effort and merit, but, to preserve their status, they become corrupt. They create wildly unequal societies, and then they rig things so that few can climb the ladders behind them. Meritocracy leads to oligarchy. 
For the CEO's problem is not living with being a failure but rather the loss of honor or, to use our current language, status that would go with this being public. "My ego was too big to admit failure". He knew he was a failure and could live with that. What he needed more than anything to, as Hayes put it, preserve his status by keeping his failure a secret so it wouldn't bring shame and loss of honour on him.

For the principle difference between a shame and honor culture and a Christian guilt and redemption culture lies in the differing views of the importance of detection. In a shame and honor culture you are taught to fear public shame rather than private guilt. If no one knows, not only do you not lose status, you also feel no guilt. That sense of guilt, that training our conscience to accuse us is what is missing. And that is what we lost in the revolution that began in the 1950s and reached its climax in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

 In our era, being "inauthentic" is seen as living a lie and a great sin. Being who you really are is a duty even though we really are sinners in need of redemption. That is the inescapable truth about all of us: no matter how we got to wherever we are or, alternatively, how we didn't get where we wanted to get, we are always sinners in need of redemption.

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