Shaming: Should Law Treat it as the Staining of Honor, or as an Offense to Human Dignity and Respect?

Abstract: It is useful to remember that shaming, currently of great interest, is a common social interaction within traditional social systems whose hierarchy and norms are based on the binary distinction between honor and shame. In such social systems, shaming “stains” the “shamee”, stripping him of honor, while rewarding the “shamer” with status and prestige. In the 21st century, this age old social interaction haunts the cyber sphere. To facilitate better understanding of it, this chapter revisits shaming in its natural habitat. Part I offers an overview of honor-and-shame societies. Part II presents five types of shaming, that perform important social functions in traditional societies: 1. formal shaming ceremonies that deter from breach of the honor code; 2. informal shaming rituals that enlist community members to uphold honor norms; 3. shaming rites of passage that endorse an honor society's class structure; 4. shaming rituals that challenge individuals to honor-contests; 5. shaming references meant to drive the 'shamee' to commit an honorable, socially endorsed act. Part III presents the claim that contemporary societies are based on human dignity and respect, and therefore, as a rule, their legal systems should not indorse honor-and-shame based considerations, and should refer to shaming only to the degree that it offends human dignity or respect. Nevertheless, in exceptional cases, shaming might be acknowledged if it serves legitimate concerns either of an honor-and-shame community or of society at large.  In order to discern these cases and evaluate them properly, it is useful to be acquainted with honor-and-shame, and with the five types of “legitimate”, “useful” shaming they espouse. Each type of shaming is examined through this lens and analyzed accordingly.

Key words: shaming, honor, shame, dignity, legal system, ritual