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Why Shame Matters: The Moral Limits of American Power

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Saman Mohammadi
February 8, 2012

“Time shall unfold what plighted cunning hides:
Who cover faults, at last shame them derides.” – Shakespeare,King Lear.

“After religion, shame is the second bond that keeps nations united, just as shamelessness and impiety cause their ruin.” – Vico, “New Science.” 1725. Pg. 208.

“Only religion has been able to contain the conflicts that would have otherwise destroyed the first groups of humans.” – René Girard, On War and Apocalypse, First Things: August/September 2009.

“Denying or eradicating shame, whether by an individual or a community, seems futile to me. It is also a waste of an important resource in thinking about what it means to be human.

Shame is a fact of human life. In many societies and cultures it is used to manage human social interaction. In others, it is hidden away: “corrected” in self-help programs and denied by governments wary of apologizing for past wrongs. Shame is very important right now: to discussions and debates about how to deal with pasts that could be called shameful; and to visions of life curtailed by the idea that there is something intrinsically wrong with feeling shame.

That shame is seen as deeply shameful has important implications for what we, as individuals and as a collectivity, can do with it. My argument seeks to investigate why it is considered shaming to admit to shame. After all, people freely admit to other negative affects, such as anger, which can lead to violence. In comparison, admitting shame is much more likely to spur consideration of why one feels ashamed. Shame, it is argued, can entail self-evaluation and transformation. To consider shame is not to wallow in self-pity or in the resentment that accompanies guilt. It is to recognize that the reduction of interest that prompts shame is always incomplete. As such, shame promises a return of interest, joy, and connection. This is why shame matters to individuals.
Shame gives us a way to rethink the types of oppositions that have become entrenched in popular debate. If, as many have argued, pride is acceptable and even vaunted, surely we must also acknowledge our individual and collective shame. This should involve more than merely accepting shame in national and cultural narratives. We must use shame to reevaluate how we are positioned in relation to the past and to rethink how we wish to live in proximity to others.” – Elspeth Probyn, “Blush: Faces of Shame.” 2005. University of Minnesota Press: Minnesota. Quotes are from the Introduction.

“Protagoras said Zeus feared that “our race was in danger of utter destruction.” So he sent his messenger, Hermes, down to earth with two gifts which would enable men at last to practice “the art of politics” successfully and establish cities where they could live together in safety and in amity. The two gifts Zeus sent down to man were aidos and dike. Aidos is a sense of shame, a concern for the good opinion of others. It is the shame a soldier feels in betraying his fellows on the battlefield, or a citizen if he is caught doing something dishonorable. Dike here means respect for the rights of others. It implies a sense of justice, and it makes civic peace possible by settling disputes through adjudication. In acquiring aidos and dike, men would at last be able to ensure their survival.” – I. F. Stone, “The Trial of Socrates.” 1989. Anchor Press: New York. Pg. 47-48.

The key to understanding Iran’s view of the emerging war with the United States and Israel is the story of Karbala. Basically, it is a story about sacrifice, resistance to tyranny, and shame.

I wrote an article about the battle of Karbala and its symbolic relevance in the War of Armageddon called, “9/11 And Karbala: The Stories We Tell Ourselves To Give Meaning To Our Deaths.”

  • A d v e r t i s e m e n t

The most essential lesson from the tragedy of Karbala that one can take away regardless of our religious beliefs and national backgrounds is that shame matters in human society. The battle of Karbala exposed the reality of moral shame in human culture and political affairs on the stage of war.

When international law fails to protect the weak, as it has in our evil era, it is the universal recognition of shame that steps in the void to regulate the conduct of nations and of men based on principles of respect and fairness.

The insane and shameless leaders of America and Israel who wage war continuously against innocent and weaker nations have lost sight of shame and its importance in human society. They are truly beasts and crazed animals who kill, cheat, lie, and plunder nations as if life is one big endless game. But they will be defeated because history tells us that men and nations who abandon shame and morality are damned by the gods and cursed to hell.

Of course, Iran’s leaders are not holier than thou and above shame, but there is a difference between crushing domestic opposition with brute force and invading sovereign countries based on total lies and killing millions of people. On the chart of shame, Iran’s Islamic Republic is far below the totalitarian and fascist governments in Israel and the United States.

Shame plays a fundamental role in war. That is why the video of U.S. Marines pissing on the dead bodies of Taliban fighters was so damaging to U.S. interests in Afghanistan and throughout the region. The image caused an angry and visceral reaction from the people of Afghanistan, even amongst pro-American Afghans in Kabul. People recognize barbarity when they see it.

Shaming the criminal and barbaric psychopaths in America and Israel who pulled off the tragic 9/11 attacks is impossible because they have no sense of shame. They have totally disconnected themselves from humanity and society.

But, we can use the power of shame to make the mindless and obedient operators of the system of mass death and endless war realize that they are committing evil against their own people and against humanity. There is hope yet that they can be taught the golden rule and become civilized human beings rather than remain robotic zombies for the rest of their lives.

The spiritual swords of truth and shame may not have the power to pierce the coldest of hearts in the U.S. and Israeli terrorist states, but they do have the power to expose their evil lies and shatter their criminal global military-industrial complex into dust.

Saman Mohammadi is the writer and editor at The Excavator Blog

This article was posted: Wednesday, February 8, 2012 at 4:29 am

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