“Have you no shame?” These were the words addressed to Sen Joe McCarthy during his infamous anti-communist Senate hearings.
Subsequently, regardless of the merits of his allegations, Sen McCarthy was driven out of the public square and his concerns about communist infiltration of our government were dropped from the public consciousness.
For all of human history, shame has been one of the most powerful emotions for driving normative behaviors.
Shame has been used by Presidents, Priests and Parents to control soldiers, children and mobs. Authors as diverse as Shakespeare, Hugo, and Dostoyevsky have used shame as the central motivation of some of their most memorable characters.
In fact, it is often the protagonist’s response to shame that drives them to do humane and monumental things. To paraphrase Gordon Gecko, “shame, for the lack of a better word…is good.”