by Don Fredrick, author of The Complete Obama Timeline, ©2019

(May 9, 2019) — “Shame may restrain what law does not prohibit.” – Seneca

When I was growing up, it was understood that when a teen-aged girl “went to visit her out-of-state aunt for a few months” it meant she had gotten pregnant and was going to give the baby up for adoption (or have what was then an illegal abortion). In those days it was shameful to get pregnant before marriage. (According to the Census Bureau, from the 1930s and into the 1950s about eight percent of all births in the United States were premarital. Despite much better access to birth control methods, by the 1990s that percentage had risen to 40 percent. Among blacks it rose above 75 percent*.)

Nowadays, pregnant teen-agers (“baby mommas”) proudly display their expanding mid-sections with photos on Instagram and Facebook. No longer is there much shame associated with out-of-wedlock pregnancies. In fact, in some neighborhoods young boys brag about how many children they have fathered with different girls. Call me old, but the kids I went to school with all had siblings with the same last names. For me to even point that out is now probably a “micro-aggression.”

In the 1950s and 1960s it was also shameful to be “on the dole” or “on relief,” as welfare was often called. The first elementary school I attended, on the west side of Chicago, had white and black students. I had white friends and black friends. (The segregation was less between white and black children than between boys and girls—because the boys considered the girls “icky.”) To the best of my knowledge and recollection, none of the families I knew, black or white, were on welfare. If they were, they certainly did not want anyone else to know because it was embarrassing. It was as much an admission of failure as an indication of bad luck, and it was certainly not “proof” that the American system of capitalism was evil.

Also to the best of my recollection, every family had both a father and a mother at home. The fathers had jobs, while most of the mothers did not. No one had much money beyond what was needed to cover the basics of rent, food, and clothing, but no one starved to death, either. Lunch may have been nothing more than a peanut butter and jelly or bologna sandwich, an apple, and a carton of milk, but we always had lunch.

As the second of four sons, I often wore hand-me-downs which, in turn, were then handed down to my two younger brothers. When we were fortunate enough to get new blue jeans, they were always several sizes too big—as evidenced by five-inch cuffs—so we could wear them for years. We did our best to avoid getting holes in them. (Nowadays you pay extra to get holes.) The families in our neighborhood had little, but what they had they earned.

The sight of a tattoo meant you were looking at someone who had served in the Navy. You might have caught a glimpse of a tattoo on an arm or seen one on a bare chest on a hot summer day. But only at the circus could you see tattoos (and piercings) on faces, and only on The Milton Berle Show could you see a man dressed as a woman.

Being addicted to drugs was also something to be ashamed of, so much so that you rarely encountered an addict. You certainly did not see junkies lying on the sidewalk, surrounded by their own vomit and discarded needles, because the police would have locked them up. Being an addict meant you were a weak-willed failure. Being an addict now means sign-wielding “social justice warriors” preventing the police from clearing you and your mangy tent off the sidewalk, and being a celebrity addict means a guest appearance on a late-night talk show where you will be applauded for repeated efforts to break the habit.

I do not long for a complete return to the good old days, as I am quite happy to be blessed with modern conveniences like air conditioning, microwave ovens, remote controls, self-propelled lawn mowers, computers, the Internet, high-definition televisions, and GPS. But I do wish we could enthusiastically bring back the concept of shame. (We could start with Walmart shoppers and people who remove their shoes on airplanes.) Today you are likely to experience severe shaming only if you are a white person who “appropriates” Chinese or Mexican food, or who does not enthusiastically express support for socialized health care, ninth-month abortions, free college tuition, and choosing your own gender.

“Free stuff for everyone” used to be a concept that prompted widespread ridicule. In 1972 Democrat presidential candidate George McGovern proposed a government payment—a “demogrant”—of $1,000 to every citizen in the United States. The scheme was widely mocked, and in a Richard Nixon reelection landslide the only state McGovern won was Massachusetts. In 1972 most voters reasonably asked, “Where is that $1,000 going to come from?” If a presidential candidate were to promise such a giveaway today, far too many voters would instead ask, “Is that all?”

Four or five decades ago, shame was attached to immoral and rude actions. People on both ends of the political spectrum denounced drug use, cheating on one’s spouse, having children before marriage, laziness, playing loud music late at night, jumping the subway turnstiles, dressing like a prostitute, wearing blue jeans to church or a funeral, mocking religion, discourteous behavior, disrespecting elders, being rude to teachers, and not obeying the orders of police officers.

Today, absurd numbers of people seem incapable of being ashamed of anything. Homeless people sleep, urinate and defecate on the streets of San Francisco and Los Angeles. Welfare recipients openly buy lobster and fillets with their EBT (food stamp) benefits. Students beat up their teachers. Rudeness and profanity seem more common than civility and dignity. The slightest inconvenience can prompt a lawsuit.

Owners of expensive cars and massive pick-up trucks brazenly take two parking spaces at the mall. Fuming mad customers throw food at counter clerks if their hamburger is missing a pickle. Shoplifters trigger security alarms as they walk boldly out of stores, knowing the pimple-faced “assistant manager” will do little or nothing about the thievery. Young punks taunt officers of the law, hoping to win police brutality lawsuits if they can goad the men in blue to overreact. Leftist students start fires and toss bicycle racks at university buildings to protest speaking engagements by anyone who endorses liberty and opposes socialism.

A celebrity intentionally exposes her breast during a Super Bowl half-time show and calls it a “wardrobe malfunction.” Her (now dead) brother grabs his crotch during his performances and earns millions. Other celebrities “forget” to wear underwear for events overflowing with paparazzi. Two female singers engage in a passionate kiss on an awards show. A Wall Street wheeler-dealer neglects to pay Social Security taxes and is made Secretary of the Treasury. An activist organization advises an undercover pimp and prostitute on how to defraud the banks and the government and then demands additional funds from the government to continue its operations.

A woman takes drugs to get pregnant and gives birth to eight children she cannot afford to raise. A high-priced hooker sleeps with a governor and gets her own newspaper advice column. A young woman has five children with five different boyfriends. A Hollywood elitist takes a private jet to travel from city to city to lecture everyone else on their unacceptable “carbon footprints.” Legislators pass trillion-dollar spending bills without regard for where they will get the money to pay for them. Politicians promise health care legislation will reduce the cost of insurance premiums when they know it will increase those costs. A healthy mother aborts her healthy baby mere days before its anticipated due date.

Shame serves a purpose. It helps define the culture. It lets people know what is acceptable to society and what is not (such as loud conversation in a library). It teaches people that some actions that are not illegal are nevertheless not acceptable. At the very least, shame discourages people from doing stupid things (while YouTube seems to encourage them).

People should be embarrassed by reckless, foolish, or immoral actions they should not have taken. But today, few actions have shame associated with them. It has become an anything-goes society, where everyone can act as he wishes and no one is permitted to judge anyone else. How in the world is it acceptable to have an organization called the North American Man Boy Love Association?

Nowadays, virtually nothing is considered unacceptable—other than perhaps being a Christian, a Jew, or a conservative who believes in limited government and a balanced budget. What used to be admirable is now scorned. Fidelity is now ridiculed. Responsibility is now ignored. Accountability has now disappeared. Morality is in danger of going extinct.

A civilization which lacks shame will not long survive. We need the return of shame—fast.


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