Is shame necessary?

Financial executives received almost $20 billion in bonuses in 2008 amid a serious financial crisis and a $245 billion government bailout. In 2008, more than 3 million American homes went into foreclosure because of mortgage blunders those same executives helped facilitate. Citigroup proposed to buy a $50 million corporate jet in early 2009, shortly after receiving $45 billion in taxpayer funds. Days later, President Barack Obama took note in an Oval Office interview. About the jet, he said, “They should know better.” And the bonuses, he said, were “shameful.” What is shame’s purpose? Is shame still necessary? These are questions I’m asking myself.

Jacquet, J. (in press) “Is Shame Necessary?” in Future Science: Essays from the Cutting Edge edited by Max Brockman. Vintage Press, New York.