Monday, 11 February 2013

Shame









Someone told me about an incident from over a hundred years ago that happened at the Powis Arms in Wetley Rocks. The publican had been carrying out an affair and the women of the community had decided to subject the miscreant to “rough music” a type of community humiliation. Pots and kettles were beaten and catcalls were directed against the man to shame him. A similar incident crops up in Lark Rise to Candleford.  The ceremony might also include the riding of the victim upon a pole or a donkey; masking and dancing ... mime or street drama upon a car or platform; the miming of a ritual hunt; or the parading and burning of effigies; or, indeed, various combinations of all these. But the purpose of “rough music” was to inflict upon people shame for violating the standards of the community


Whatever happened to the notion of shame? The reason I ask is that an incident in the recent election is seared into my memory. I attempted to give a leaflet to a man who rather rudely rebuffed me in a very superior way. I later found out that the man had been found guilty of a serious sexual crime. How could it be that such an individual should adapt such a haughty way with me given the nature of his crime? At one end of the scale there are people supposedly on incapacity benefits running marathons, and what a Councillor in Stoke who got returned for his ward regularly despite downloading child pornography. At the other end there are Members of the House of Lords who resume their seats after being imprisoned for fraud and Lord Archer who effortlessly moves from chokey to fundraising for the Tory Party- what is going on?  

There was a time when public figures who had misbehaved, or simply made serious mistakes, went off quietly, and without complaint.

The Tory Cabinet Minister John Profumo, who resigned in 1963 over a scandal involving the prostitute Christine Keeler, devoted much of the rest of his life to good works in London’s East End

Today the only thing our society tells us to be ashamed of, it seems, is shame itself.