Jonathan Sacks Saw Guilt as the Antidote to Cancel Culture and Public Shaming

Feb. 28 2022

In the 1940s, the anthropologist Ruth Benedict posited a distinction between “guilt” and “shame” cultures, which has since become standard in the social sciences. Put simply, guilt cultures tend to focus on the inward response to transgression, while shame cultures emphasize society’s reaction to the individual transgressor. The late rabbi Jonathan Sacks frequently employed this distinction in his writings, seeing Judaism as an exemplar of the merits of a guilt culture. Marc Eichenbaum explains how Sacks’s ideas on the subject have particular relevance today:

Although Rabbi Sacks discussed the differences between guilt and shame cultures as early as 2001, it is noteworthy that he began to discuss [the subject] much more frequently in the later years of his life. Perhaps Sacks did so because he saw a disturbing trend in which contemporary society began increasingly to transition into more of a shame culture. On several occasions, Rabbi Sacks decried the influence of social media in such terms: “The return of public shaming and vigilante justice, of viral videos and tendentious tweets, is not a move forward to a brave new world but a regression to a very old one; that of pre-Christian Rome and the pre-Socratic Greeks.”

People increasingly view sin as a permanent stain on the sinner and thus regard forgiveness as archaic. The fear of being forever canceled and shamed is more apparent than the fear of betraying oneself. “What counts today is public image—hence the replacement of prophets by public-relations practitioners, and the Ten Commandments by three new rules: thou shalt not be found out, thou shalt not admit, thou shalt not apologize,” mused Rabbi Sacks. People are called out for their mistakes instead of being called in to reconsider them, ostracized for nonconformity instead of being appreciated for their diversity of thought.

Rabbi Sacks urged the world to return to the ethics of the Bible and reclaim the beauty of a guilt culture. He saw the values of responsibility, repentance, forgiveness, and individuality at risk.

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Read more at Lehrhaus

More about: Cancel culture, Deir Yassin, Judaism, Social media

 

Gaza’s Quiet Dissenters

Last year, the Dubai-based television channel Al-Arabiya, the Times of Israel, and several other media organizations worked together to conduct numerous interviews with residents of the Gaza Strip, taking great pains to protect their identities. The result is a video series titled Whispers in Gaza, which presents a picture of life under Hamas’s tyranny unlike anything that can be found in the press. Jeff Jacoby writes:

Through official intimidation or social pressure, Gazans may face intense pressure to show support for Hamas and its murderous policies. So when Hamas organizes gaudy street revels to celebrate a terrorist attack—like the fireworks and sweets it arranged after a gunman murdered seven Israelis outside a Jerusalem synagogue Friday night—it can be a challenge to remember that there are many Palestinians who don’t rejoice at the murder of innocent Jews.

In one [interview], “Fatima” describes the persecution endured by her brother, a humble vegetable seller, after he refused to pay protection money to Hamas. The police arrested him on a trumped-up drug charge and locked him in prison. “They beat him repeatedly to make him confess to things he had nothing to do with,” she says. Then they threatened to kill him. Eventually he fled the country, leaving behind a family devastated by his absence.

For those of us who detest Hamas no less than for those who defend it, it is powerful to hear the voices of Palestinians like “Layla,” who is sickened by the constant exaltation of war and “resistance” in the Palestinian media. “If you’re a Gazan citizen who opposes war and says, ‘I don’t want war,’ you’re branded a traitor,” she tells her interviewer. “It’s forbidden to say you don’t want war.” So people keep quiet, she explains, for fear of being tarred as disloyal.

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Read more at Boston Globe

More about: Gaza Strip, Hamas, Palestinian dissidents, Palestinian public opinion