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by Peter Moskos

October 13, 2008

What do we think about "shame'"?

America is more of a "guilt" culture than a "shame" culture. What does that mean? Guilt is something you feel. Shame is what you feel based on what others feel toward you. We want our criminals to feel remorse. That's guilt. Ashamed to show your face in public because your grandma will think less of you? That's shame.

Culturally, if you want "shame," head to East Asia. Shame plays less a role in individualistic societies. We ask people not to commit crime because we hope that they (the criminals) think it's wrong. But it's easy to rationalize not feeling bad about your actions. Especially if, say you're involved in "victimless crime." It's easy to not feel guilty about dealing drugs to willing buyers. It's harder to not feel shame if your grandmother finds out.

I'm pro shame. I think. If it works as a deterrent. Public punishment is supposed to be shameful. I suspect that cultures that emphasize shame over guilt have less crime.

Should people arrested (for drunk driving, in this case) be posted online? Arrest records are public. So it doesn't seem to be a problem, legally. But officially, people are innocent until proven guilty, right? Posting arrests as a matter of fact is OK. But what about posting arrest for the purpose of shaming. Is shame punishment? Should it be? These are ideas I'm trying to articulate ideas on this for my next book. So I'd love to hear your thoughts.

But the cop in me knows that people arrested are guilty.

Here's the story in New York Newsday.


DJK said...

I agree. I also think we should be more seriously punishing violent criminals. Maybe public executions would help. Bring back hanging as a method of capital punishment. This things might actually deter these scumbags.

It seems that we spend too much time coddling this scum and giving to them rather than taking away. We give them top end health care, entertainment, drugs, they get to have sex, they get hot food, etc, etc.

They surely have it better than their victims.

Anonymous said...

What about the sexual offender registry, I think that not only using this tool to educate the public about others in there community I think that it brings some shame to the offenders themselves. Look to the stories of the sexual offenders whole communities have turned there backs on them. Why can we use this sort of community education and shame for drug offences /DUI's. etc., and publicly in plain English let the community know what’s going on. So many can get away with so much because they can hide what there up to let it be known and let there be shame!

PCM said...

I don't think it would work for drugs, because unlike pedophilia, there's nothing inherently 'wrong' about drugs.

In fact, some drug dealers would take the publicity as a point of pride. And it might serve as a form of free advertising.

Anonymous said...

A P.D. in my area has taken to posting pictures of "drug offenders" on its website, Peter. When I heard about the idea, I made an argument similar to your last statement. That is EXACTLY how it will go down. It's frustrating. Even the pros just...don't...get it!!!

PCM said...

For shame to work, you have be shamed by your peers and family--people you care about and who care about you. Or at least people who share your values.

You're not going to shame at pedophile at a Nambla meeting. You're not going to shame a drug user at stoner rally.

And while you probably can't shame a street-corner drug dealer, you probably can shame a drug dealer who shoots an innocent kid with a stray bullet meant for someone else.

You can't be shamed if the only thing you think you did wrong was get caught.

You can't be shamed by strangers who don't know you, don't share your values, and don't give a damn.

Shame probably works much better for things like child support and drunk driving. And also for paternalistic middle-class and white-collar workers. The people who generally like to tell others what to do and how to live their lives.

The grocery store near me had a 'wall of shame' for shoplifters. I always liked looking at the polaroids and seeing what a wonderfully diverse group of shoplifters we have. Hey, this is Queens!

A while back they got a fancy video system and got rid of the wall. I told them I was sad to see it go. They assured me the new system was much better at stopping shoplifting.

About two months after that, the wall started going back up. Maybe nothing works like a little shame.

Anonymous said...

"In fact, some drug dealers would take the publicity as a point of pride. And it might serve as a form of free advertising."
The first half of this comment might be true, but the part about free advertising is ridiculous. As a guy who relies on his time working in a narcotics unit as an indication of narcotics expertise, please explain how this free advertising would work.

PCM said...


If I'm a corner drug dealer trying to make rep for myself and suddenly my face is plastered on billboards as a dangerous drug dealer. That's free advertising.

Wouldn't you want to buy from the guy who is officially "public-drug-dealer Enemy Number One"? It would be great for business. Buy from me and you know you're buying from the baddest dope dealer in town.

Sure it's ridiculous, but not more so than junkies overdosing on your heroin being good for business. "Pookie shot this shit and fell right out. His eyes just rolled back and he didn't never wake up."

That's publicity money can't buy.

Please let me know what's wrong with that logic.

Anonymous said...

If a drug dealer had been labelled as "public drug dealer number one" so many cops would be targeting him for arrest that he wouldn't be able to sell to anybody. Junkies know this too, they wouldn't want to come near this guy once they hear about everyone getting locked up after he sold to them.
Your other comment about junkies overdosing on your heroin being good for business is a myth. Most overdoses are caused by adulterated heroin and believe it or not junkies don't want to die. Once people die from using heroin the dealers have the cops looking at them and people are afraid to use their stuff.

PCM said...

The overdoses being good for business is not a myth. I saw it and heard it with my own eyes and ears.

And while adulterated heroin is not good for your health, more adulteration doesn't kill you.

(though you could also die from a bad adulterant... but that's the exception not the rule.)

Overdoses are causes by 1) lower tolerance from being clean for a while and then taking your "normal" dose, or 2) more pure less-adulterated heroin. You overdose when you get more heroin than you want, not less.

Also, maybe there are differences in different jurisdictions. Maybe in other places (and I'm thinking suburban white neighborhoods) cops go after dealers after people overdose. That was certainly not the case when I was police.

You do make a very good point that too many people forget: junkies don't want to die. If we could remember that, we could do a lot more to prevent overdose deaths and save lives.

Anonymous said...

I'm not questioning your experience but mine differs. I'd like to know where your beliefs about the issue of heroin overdose come from. When I mention adulterants I'm not referring to relatively innocuous "cut". I'm referring to the adulterants that have been found in heroin coming through Mexico and other places which killed several dozen people in 2006 and 2007. This is Fentanyl and chemically similar substances that "chemists" are using to attempt to enhance the heroin's potency without increasing purity.
Further clouding this issue is the fact that these compounds don't report on a normal tox-screen and can be overlooked in emergency room situations. They respond to Narcan (naproxone) but sometimes before it is used, it is too late. Death due to the purity of heroin has actually been a low percentage of "overdose" fatalities.
As for your comment on the police trying to track down bad heroin after a pattern of overdoses becomes known, I've seen it in many communities and I've seen a police response in all of them.
The police are not the enemy here, the users are not the enemy her. I know it is not politically correct, but the enemy is the people who provide these substances to a physically and emotionally dependant population. These dealers are morally and legally corrupt and should be imprisoned. (Grey area: addicted dealers)
Sorry, long post

PCM said...

Thanks for the long point. Good points all. I am out of my league when it comes to discussing Fentanyl. I must learn more.

I do dispute your last point: calling dealers morally corrupt. The same could be said of everybody who runs a 7-11 peddling cigarettes and booze. It doesn't take an "evil" person to be a drug dealer. It takes a person who wants to make a buck. And if there's a job opening (because the arrest of the previous drug dealer), somebody will fill is place. Drug dealing is less a matter of good and bad than supply and demand. Locking up drug dealers just creates more prisoners and more drug dealers.

Anonymous said...

Your comparison of a drug dealer to anyone who sells cigarettes and booze is interesting. I believe that even with the huge tobacco lobby at work, most tobacco products will be illegal within twenty years, and rightfully so. Booze is a different story because it is well tolerated by many who use it (similar to mj) and not as addictive as amphetamines, opiates or nicotine.
I can't argue against legalization of marijuana because too many studies have suggested a low addiction and personal harm factor. The addiction and personal harm factors for cocaine, heroin and meth far surpass those for marijuana though, and I beleive that if you are to make an argument for legalization it has to overcome the harm caused by using a substance.
Even with this academic b.s. aside, you have been to the streets where non-addicted dealers see what their product does to their customers, the desperation the ability to drop all semblance of humanity just to get high. Why do you defend those who lack the moral clarity to continue selling these substances when they see what it does to people. Or to put it another way, I have never seen a male heterosexual cigarette smoker offer to perform oral sex on a male 7-11 clerk just to get a pack of cigarettes. (Same goes for a marijuana user-It's not the price its the drug.)

PCM said...

I like your last point! And it's valid. I think the answer is quite simple: cigarettes are not as bad as crack and heroin. Yes, cigarettes kill a lot of people, but a nicotine addict is not like a crack addict.

But I don't believe there is a fundamental difference between one addictive drug and another. Alcohol does ruin lives. Cigarettes kill people. But heroin and crack can do it in a particularly ugly manner (not that throat cancer is pretty).

Here's the point: regulation does not equal approval. If regulation could lower drug use--and there's every reason to think it can--then we should regulate.

Plus I refuse to play the "moral clarity" game. There are recreational cocaine users just like there are recreational drinkers.

I don't believe drugs are evil. I think some drugs for some people are bad. I think heroin and crystal meth are very bad for almost all people. Many of my best friends regularly use alcohol, cigarettes, marijuana, and ecstasy without fucking up themselves, their families, or their jobs. They're not evil.

But my point isn't to encourage use. Quite the opposite: it's to discourage use. And since the U.S. has the highest usage rate in the world for pretty much every illegal drug, it's safe to say our current war on drugs doesn't work.

The idea of condemning the morality of drug dealers to me is a little silly. Unless you're willing to say capitalize is evil (and though it may be, I'm not), I'm not going to say drug dealing is evil. They used to say that about music, sports, and alcohol. Is it wrong to sell to drugs addict? Maybe. So what about methadone clinics?

And besides, condemn all you want, if we lock up one drug dealer, another will sell. That's the problem: we CAN'T STOP drug dealing. Repeat that. We can't stop drug dealing. Once we accept that, we can figure out the best way to deal bad substances. And if regulation can lower usage, lessen addiction, and raise money all at the same time, why not give it a try?