Tuesday, November 22, 2011
the rise of barbarism
In this age of reduced economic certainty and of what feels like a rise in barbarism, I sometimes think of pointillist painters like Georges Seurat. Pointillism is the technique of creating a recognizable individual or scene by adding point-tip after point-tip of color until the individual or scene emerges. Dit, dit, dit ... itty-bit by itty-bit.
And itty-bit by itty-bit, the social fabric seems to dissolve. The political scene becomes more and more complex. Governments refuse to function. Anger rises itty-bit by itty-bit. Anguish heats up. A cohesive and recognizable picture is lost ... as some new and as yet unrecognizable picture emerges. The longing for answers goes unanswered as, one by one, those offering up answers prove unequal to the task. Individuals zipper their economic coats against the cold winds ... and zipper their minds into smaller and smaller containers as they attempt to save ... something.
And not for the first time, it occurs to my increasingly zippered mind that of all the useful tools for seeing human beings out of the mess, shame may be the most useful. In the face of cruelty and confusion, as the recognition that reliable havens are no longer reliable rises ... shame has a chance of making the reflection in the mirror less grotesque.
Shame is not the half-joking archetype of the Jewish child who is victim to some stereotyped, guilt-wielding mother. Shame is a recognition of responsibility -- personal responsibility and a willingness to try to meet that responsibility. Imagine if politicians had a sense of shame. Imagine if bankers and stock brokers had a sense of shame. Imagine if I had a sense of shame. Imagine if the righteous or the virtuous everywhere had a sense of shame.
Would it cure all the ills as barbarity gains a foothold? Certainly not.
But it would be less shameless.
And perhaps a little kinder.