Is Shame Necessary? New Uses for an Old Tool

Jennifer Jacquet. Pantheon, $22.95 (224p) ISBN 978-0-307-90757-8
This debut from NYU Environmental Studies assistant professor Jacquet puts forward the thesis that shame can be harnessed as an unlikely weapon for justice in the social-media age. She begins by showing that many of today’s ethical movements have fizzled because consumers are satisfied by alleviating their own consciences, rather than effecting widespread change. Jacquet then offers a clear and helpful distinction between guilt, defined as holding someone accountable to his or her own standards, and shame, meant to hold an individual accountable to group standards or norms. Comparing the two human instincts of avoiding shame and acquiring honor, she argues that the former is more deeply-rooted, and the latter is regarded as essentially optional. After describing useful techniques for applying shame, the book turns to the specific areas where it could be put to good use. Jacquet takes too much for granted in some of her underlying points, such as that individual achievement is antithetical to humans’ social nature. A more philosophical examination of the subject is warranted, but the book serves as an astute how-to and defense of shame. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 11/24/2014
Release date: 02/17/2015
Genre: Nonfiction
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Paperback - 224 pages - 978-0-307-95013-0
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