The idea of shame as a form of punishment has been one of the more intriguing topics for me during our discussions and readings regarding truth commissions. As my last post explained, I no longer see torture as a possible form of punishment. I have struggled with what forms of punishment are both morally right as well as effective.
The first possible solution for me is shame through the perpetrator being made know to the public. Shame punishes an individual on many levels. On a large scale, the perpetrator is now known to have committed their crime by the public, and therefore will most likely experience humiliation for the rest of their life. They will have difficulty obtaining a job and may therefore develop anger with those who have bestowed this shame upon them. This stands in the way of a community being unified, which is important for a successful truth commission. Shame also affects the individual’s personal life. In the case of South Africa, individual’s families often had no idea the atrocities they were committing. Many families were devastated to hear the horrors, their spouse, parent, or even child being turned into a monster in their eyes. Of course, this most likely would occur had the individual been processed in a judicial system, so I am not sure it is how this can be avoided without amnesty being given to an individual with only the prosecutors and perpetrators knowing what happened.
My primary concern regarding shame as a form of punishment is that I do not believe that all human beings feel shame. Unfortunately, this can become a circular argument very quickly because of the diversity of views toward human nature. I believe that some individuals can become immune to shame through repeated exposure or involvement in the sort of horrors that the truth commissions address. I do not believe that an individual is born into this mentality or born “evil”, but one can become dulled to shame. So does this make shame an impossible punishment for certain individuals? And if so, how does one gauge who deserves an alternative punishment? One could certainly fake feelings of shame and remorse? If an individual has no desire to integrate into the community, and merely gives up the truth in public to receive amnesty, is justice served?
I believe that some form of correctional education is required for justice to truly be served. I do not see shame as a final solution to just punishment. While our current jail facilities are certainly no more effective (or possibly even as effective) than shame, a reformed system could be the solution. This would involve implementation of stronger educational programs within the penal system, more humane facilities and treatment of inmates, legal ramifications for prejudicial treatment of those who are reentering society, and many other changes that are far and beyond my knowledge. While I am tempted forget about the possibility of change and consider this road helpless, I cannot help but hear Dr. J scolding my laziness and ignorance.