Truth in a Shame Culture

Truth in a Shame Culture

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Steven Miner, Social Policy Contributor

Recently, in an article profiling Karen Pence, the Washington Post cited a 2002 piece from the Hill in which Mike Pence said he “never eats alone with a woman other than his wife and that he won’t attend events featuring alcohol without her by his side, either.” Reading this, I thought little of it. However, I should have predicted the outrage that would ensue from the left and the resulting explosion on social media. Every crazy accusation, from “sexual harassment” to “rape culture” was thrown out there. All because Mike Pence was trying to stay loyal to his wife.

Shortly after the Washington Post article was published, I listened to a talk by one of my church leaders. I found it related to the Mike Pence criticism since he spoke about the dangers of moral relativism. In today’s world, those who believe in truth are often seen as intolerant or judgmental. This puts them in a precarious situation, as intolerance is now the only sin recognized by progressives. But, if you commit this sin, you are sorely punished and even ostracized. Elder Christofferson (high ranking leaders in our church go by the title “elder”) points out this hypocrisy, saying, “those who claim truth is relative and moral standards are a matter of personal preference are often the same ones who most harshly criticize people who don’t accept the current norm of ‘correct thinking.’”

In his talk, Elder Christofferson cites a New York Times article by David Brooks, who calls this occurrence the “shame culture”:

In a guilt culture you know you are good or bad by what your conscience feels. In a shame culture you know you are good or bad by what your community says about you, by whether it honors or excludes you… [In the shame culture,] moral life is not built on the continuum of right and wrong; it’s built on the continuum of inclusion and exclusion…Everybody is perpetually insecure in a moral system based on inclusion and exclusion. There are no permanent standards, just the shifting judgment of the crowd. It is a culture of oversensitivity, overreaction and frequent moral panics, during which everybody feels compelled to go along…The guilt culture could be harsh, but at least you could hate the sin and still love the sinner. The modern shame culture allegedly values inclusion and tolerance, but it can be strangely unmerciful to those who disagree and to those who don’t fit in.

The emergence of social media within the last few years has only made the phenomenon worse. It is a “world of constant display and observation,” where the “desire to be embraced and praised by the community is intense.” If progressives are suddenly outraged by something, you must immediately post about it. If not, you could be “noticed and condemned.” However, if you say the wrong thing, you will also be condemned. There are always those trying to prove how tolerant they are by ridiculing those who stumble in their own tolerance. You must constantly cater to the “shame culture” in order to survive. It demands frequent offerings. Although, if it is not pleased by those offerings, you will be punished (as in the recent Pepsi ad). 

The morality within this “shame culture” is not based on truth, or any “continuum of right and wrong.” It is based “on the continuum of inclusion and exclusion.” This causes everyone to be “perpetually insecure,” with no “permanent standards, just the shifting judgment of the crowd.” According to Brooks, this results in a culture of “oversensitivity, overreaction and frequent moral panics, during which everybody feels compelled to go along.”

It’s understandable to want to fit in. It’s as true now as it was when we were in 3rd grade. However, we can never let that desire get in the way of holding to truth, regardless of what the legions of progressive followers may echo on Twitter. Mike Pence, for example, knows what is best for his marriage, regardless of the cries of radical feminists. His wife is more important to him than what the world might think. “Do not succumb to false notions of tolerance or to fear” of disapproval, warns Elder Christofferson. David Brooks agrees, arguing that truth is “worth defending even at the cost of unpopularity and exclusion.”

Truth was never meant to be popular. It doesn’t change according to social norms. There will always be times when our principles don’t align with what is considered to be tolerant or progressive. At those moments we just have to decide whether we want to follow the crowd, or defend our principles. You can decide for yourself, but I will warn you: there is a right choice and a wrong choice.

Follow Steven on Twitter @StevenMiner14

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