9 Replies to “Shameful Justice: Does Shame or Guilt Punish Fairly in America?”

  1. Hmmm… “I should be able to cheat if you do”, sounds personal and yet familiar at the same time. But to answer your question, I see the essence of justice depicted in the blindfolded young lady holding the balanced scales that represent justice. The balanced scales, of course, represent equilibrium. I believe the core and purpose of justice is the need of humans to bring the injustice back to this point of equilibrium. And I feel compelled to add that a sense of justice does not appear to be confined to humans. In a laboratory experiment I saw on National Geographic, The Discovery Channel, or maybe YouTube, monkeys in adjoining cages we’re being fed grapes by the human observers. However, one monkey was fed larger, better tasting, and more grapes as the other monkey looked on. Soon the monkey receiving the inferior grapes became enraged and began grabbing at the arms of the observer and tried to steal the grapes that his companion in the next cage had received. The question asked of the experiment was to see if primates, like humans, experienced a sense of fairness; of justice and injustice. At the conclusion of the experiment all observers concurred that the answer was a resounding “yes”. In fact the observers we’re clearly surprised at just how acute this sense of fairness was in a lesser primate. And anecdotally what owner of multiple pets has not witnessed an often hilarious attempt by one pet to get more than his or her fair share of food or attention, and the often laughable attempts by the other pet to “balance things out”. It appears, therefor, that a sense of justice and a need for justice is not limited to one species. Who knows, perhaps a sense of fairness and balanceis a part of life itself on earth.

    So what does this have to do with relationship shaming in order to achieve a sense of fairness and justice? Everything. In any relationship bound together by some form of love the measure of that love is the mutual respect each party accords the other. When one party perceives that equality to be out of balance he or she will attempt to return the relationship to equilibrium. The aggrieved party will use either shame or guilt or both to return the scales to a point of stasis. I believe that it is this sense of fairness, of justice that supersedes the method of achieving it. The specific method is inconsequential; it is an afterthought, or, more likely, not a thought at all.

    1. MPM, I agree that a sense of justice is big in us and that balance of all aspects of our lives is critical to health: emotions, physical, spiritual and mental. I know that I feel stressed when my life is chaotic and not balanced with enough quiet time or when I spend too much time in my head and not enough time exercising my body. All of my thoughts and actions are affected when I don’t have all of the parts of my life in balance.
      You state that in relationships justice is a form of balance, if I read you right. I agree to a certain extent, and perhaps it is difficult to write about the idea without specifics. An overall justice or balance between two people in a relationship strikes me as necessary. For example, both parties have equal expectations of
      shared love, an equal desire to spend time and make plans for important things like having children. You can imagine the injustice of both spouses agreeing they want children and then one of them reneging what breakage that may cause, severe injustice. But can the one who wanted children then bring the justice, the balance by shaming the other into having children? Will the tactics used to achieve the justice, which is surely warranted in the above mentioned scenario, not cause resentment, a divot in the solidity of the relationship? I think the way people resolve conflicts or imbalances IS important because over time, the accumulation of injuries due to unfair fighting or shaming or guilting erodes relationships just like accumulated injuries due to abuse, cutting someone down for his or her mistakes, making the other feel inferior. I believe the tactics used to get what you need in a relationship is important, speaks to the health of the individuals involved in the relationship. Is shaming ever a good method of achieving balance in personal relationships? That is the question. When it comes to the larger society in the judicial system, I can see how it works, but as both communitarians and Gottlieb point out, the intention and end goal must be not that the shaming is end but the means to another end, reintegration or restoring. So perhaps the intentions of the lovers or spouses need to be clear, open and freely discussed in trust, something built up by actions over the long term. Open dialogue, clear communication seems to be the key ingredient.

      1. Gaze, we are on the same page as far as the concept of overall balance and justice is concerned. However, answering your specific example of a couple divided over having children after marriage when having them was a mutual desire before marriage, I think it makes my point exactly. I agree with you to the point that the aggrieved party – the one who now finds him or herself “stuck” with a partner who doesn’t – feels a sense of injustice. In fact it is very likely he or she will feel duped into marrying the partner. Therefore, in order to seek ‘justice’ it is highly probable this partner will seek to dissolve the marriage to find a new partner who truly wants the same as they do. In other words, they will do what is necessary to find that balance they need to feel whole and complete. The other alternative is to stay with the partner who reneged on the agreement and live a life filled with resentment and an inner sense of injustice. That is no relationship at all.

  2. One hell of an article, an exploration I can very much relate to. First, I noticed in the Quran, it is focused on punishment and fear of consequences, you touched on a few different cultures, and it reminded me of the tone of the Quran and the similar tone of the culture subscribes to it.
    Equilibrium and justice in a relationship? Not. To expect such is to invite a disaster at one’s own hands – why I always did the cooking, cleaning, laundry, for the woman too. There is no argument, there is only a complete control and an understand where the door is. On the other hand, I am obligated to provide the right stuff to keep her happy in that space. A loving dictatorship, financial or otherwise has it’s place.

    1. Jim, I concur that loving dictatorships have their place, so long as that is the agreement, explicitly or implicitly, between two people. Relationships are largely contractual. We trade off some of our freedoms to be in a relationship and approach each person as we find him or her. The lock and key fit is there totally or in part or made over time through the daily friction of daily life.

      1. Thank You! Yes the dictatorship can work well! Does not matter who is in charge, but as you say, and I love it, relationships are contractual in every sense and there is currency between the two. That currency being custom tailored to that situation. Business is business and the business approach to love seems the most logical and successful.
        Thanks for this as I have a more focused resolution of my own concepts due to your writing.

  3. Nice balance on crime and punishment as well, as you say, how many of us have been on both sides of the law and experienced each one fully? Truth and Death, your anvil.

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