Shamelessness in Public and Private Life

We often hear that there is no sense of shame anymore. For decades, that has been evident about sexual matters. Sexual behaviors, even perversions, which were once not only unmentioned but even unthinkable are now in the mainstream. Not only this, but opposing thinking—such as the value of chastity and sound sexual ethics—is held to be abnormal and unrealistic. Instead of norms of courtship and regard for the “nice girl,” we now have a hook-up culture. More, we see people forced to endorse and even facilitate sexual immorality. Corporate executives who dissent from any aspect of the homosexualist agenda are ousted, states try to force bakers and florists with religious objections to serve same-sex “weddings,” and conscience protections for health care workers who don’t want to aid in abortions are eroding. In effect, an attempt is underway to refashion as objectionable morally upright beliefs concerning sex and reproduction.

We see shamelessness in corporate America. Besides the surrender to the homosexualists, we witness CEOs getting large bonuses even when their companies don’t perform well and their employees’ pay stagnates. We see the national Chamber of Commerce pushing amnesty for illegal immigrants because, in the final analysis, they want more workers who will be willing to take minimum wage jobs. In other words, so companies don’t have to pay a just wage.

We see public employees with benefit packages that outstrip the private sector dig in their heels and oppose even efforts to make them contribute toward their health insurance premiums. Their union spokesmen don’t blink an eye about the fact that taxpayers, many of whom are much less financially advantaged, have to foot the bill for them because they won’t make modest sacrifices for the public good.

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Our almost reflexive response to private sector excess has been more government regulation. It’s not like we don’t see plenty of shameful actions by legislators and government agencies and officials, however. So can we reasonably expect them to put others on the straight and narrow? We see such things as the IRS—even the same operatives in the same office—frequently giving different answers to the same queries about tax law. Congress routinely passes long pieces of legislation, which its members don’t read. Remember Nancy Pelosi saying that everyone would find out what was in the Affordable Care Act after it was enacted. She herself couldn’t say for sure what was in it. Should that be surprising, since who is likely to read a 2,700-page bill? Still, they think nothing of imposing such a law on us, complete with penalties. Or how about the seemingly endless chronicles of federal grant money provided for silly, bizarre, and at times even vulgar purposes? A sense of responsibility about the stewardship of the taxpayers’ money seems absent. Or consider the “horror stories” we hear about the TSA and their screening of airline passengers, which at times defy common sense and even affront human dignity—while the agency just brushes aside criticism.

Such shameless, outrageous conduct by government is not confined to the federal level. From municipalities harassing people about how long they can let their grass grow, cracking down on children’s lemonade stands because they didn’t get business licenses or health inspections, and using traffic cameras—even cutting yellow light times despite the resulting increase in rear-end accidents—so they can rack up more citation revenue, to some police departments using forfeiture laws against innocent people to increase funds, to some state legislatures voting to pay themselves full-time salaries for part-time work, we see plenty of official shamelessness in state and local government, too. Then there is the child protective system (CPS) that tells us how essential it is to fighting child abuse while spending most of its time interfering with the childrearing practices of innocent parents. It does this even while many of its operatives are not even parents themselves. These are, of course, just a few examples of hundreds of thousands of cases of strikingly shameful behavior by government officials and operatives each year.

So, the contemporary culture of shamelessness sweeps broadly over many different domains and facets of American life. What caused it? At the top of the list are the secularization of the culture and the triumph of moral relativism. Shame is not likely when people don’t believe that they are subject to standards beyond their own making or if they think they will never have to be answerable to their Maker. In some of the examples mentioned we see simple selfishness at work, and that is necessarily going to abound in such conditions.

We can also blame a deeply ingrained utilitarian mindset. For instance, the economic bottom line for corporations is the sole imperative, often regardless of likely adverse effects on society or even concerns about ethics and human dignity. Then there is the gnostic worldview that permeates so many of our institutions and the deformed elites who direct them. Like the movers and shakers of ancient Athens criticized by Socrates, they claim expertise far beyond their areas of competence. They simply think they know better than the rest of us and try to shape our lives in an increasing number of areas.

Ideology often stands behind such gnosticism. Don’t underestimate the influence of a subtle, vulgarized Marxism. These elites set the tone and that triggers actions bred by pure arrogance by the operatives down the line in institutions, like in the IRS and CPS. The modern prepossession of liberating the passions—in effect, turning the soul upside down so the passions crowd out right reason—stands behind our sexual turmoil. What began as justifying acquisitiveness has long since moved on to increasingly base passions. In the absence of sound morality, manners, and norms of civility, the age-old temptations to power, wealth, and pleasure become irresistible.

What can be done about this? Let’s “call out” shameless institutions and their operatives. We need to vigorously and consistently let them know what we think of their behavior and that we won’t tolerate it—and that we’ll remember it at election time or when we make decisions about which businesses to patronize. We can even organize public protests against them. We can communicate with the scholars, organization spokesmen, union leaders, etc. who promote or defend shameless practices—and think they’re below the radar screen—to tell them we also oppose them.

We can also dig in and fight them uncompromisingly when they try to target us, like the Christian florist in Washington State refusing to serve same-sex “weddings” has done. Changing shameless cultural practices is more difficult. I talked at some length about this in the last chapter of The Transformation of the American Democratic Republic. It involves a rededication at the level of families and individuals to solid spiritual, moral, intellectual, and behavioral formation. Well-formed people can then become good examples and, to quote Charles Murray, should also “preach what they practice.”


  • Stephen M. Krason

    Stephen M. Krason is Professor of Political Science and Legal Studies and associate director of the Veritas Center for Ethics in Public Life at Franciscan University of Steubenville. He is also co-founder and president of the Society of Catholic Social Scientists.

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