Shame is something we can all enjoy. In the wake of cyclist Lance Armstrong’s interview with Oprah Winfrey, TIME’s Joe Stein wrote: “I am incredibly judgmental. This is partly because it’s fun, partly because it’s a way to bond with others and mostly because one of my few faults is not appreciating how difficult it is for others to be as amazing as I am.”
“I do not believe that people who watched the Oprah interview felt wronged for believing that an athlete didn’t dope to win a sport they’ve never watched,” Stein wrote. “I believe that interview made us feel better about all the bad things we’ve done, because at least we didn’t cheat at cycling. Even better, it allowed us to avoid asking if we would have. I know I would have if I weren’t so afraid of needles. And exercising.”
“Shame is like everything else,” wrote Salman Rushdie, “live with it for long enough and it becomes part of the furniture.” Shame is a near universal impulse. We see it all the time when Congress hauls the delinquent or presumed-delinquent before their committee hearings to denounce wrong-doing. Shame should be reserved for the things we choose to do, not the circumstances that life puts on us. We saw it when Jonah Lerer collected $20,000 from the Knight Foundation for detailing how he fabricated for his best-selling book Imagine:
What I clearly need is a new list of rules, a stricter set of standard operating procedures. If I’m lucky enough to write again, then whatever I write will be fact-checked and fully footnoted. It doesn’t matter if it’s a book or an article or the text for a speech like this one. Every conversation with a subject will be tape recorded and transcribed. If the subject would like a copy of their transcript, I will provide it. There is, of course, nothing innovative about these procedures. The vast majority of journalists don’t need to be shamed into following them. But I did, which is why I also need to say them out loud.
So, there you have, the antidote to shame is following the rules – whether in sports or writing or even monetary policy. The problem comes when folks think they can (a) ignore the rules; (b) make up their own rules.
And, of course, is why we need a monetary rule called the gold standard. It is when political and monetary authorities decided to scrap that rule that we began the long descent into monetary disorder and shame.
With the gold standard, we might only feel better. We might prosper.