Having read Middlemarch last year, I was rather pleased to see this interesting take on the novel. And an interesting take on shame too.
Two things separate these experiences of shame: authority and hope. When we talk about shame “working,” we usually fail to recognize the importance of these two categories.
Ladislaw frankly rejects the authority of the people who would judge him. He doesn’t slink off in defeat, because he doesn’t think he’s wrong. When some guy at the Brookings Institute says we should be shaming teenage mothers, I wonder why he thinks they’d listen to a poster more than they’d listen to the actual authorities in their world, like peers and family. We live in a society of chaotic, competing authorities. If one authority rejects you, unless you already love that authority it’s really easy to just reject it right back.
And even if you accept the authority of the people who shame you, two obvious responses to shame are Bulstrode’s responses: despair; and concealment, even at the cost of another human life. It should be obvious how that solution relates to shame over an unintended pregnancy: Shame is a huge motivating force for abortion.
Truly amazing video. Short. Worth the click. Trust me.
Yet the scientists who study the biochemistry of fat and the epidemiologists who track weight trends are not nearly as unanimous as Bloomberg makes out. In fact, many researchers believe that personal gluttony and laziness cannot be the entire explanation for humanity’s global weight gain. Which means, of course, that they think at least some of the official focus on personal conduct is a waste of time and money. As Richard L Atkinson, Emeritus Professor of Medicine and Nutritional Sciences at the University of Wisconsin and editor of the International Journal of Obesity, put it in 2005: ‘The previous belief of many lay people and health professionals that obesity is simply the result of a lack of willpower and an inability to discipline eating habits is no longer defensible.’
Today’s priests of obesity prevention proclaim with confidence and authority that they have the answer. So did Bruno Bettelheim in the 1950s, when he blamed autism on mothers with cold personalities. So, for that matter, did the clerics of 18th-century Lisbon, who blamed earthquakes on people’s sinful ways. History is not kind to authorities whose mistaken dogmas cause unnecessary suffering and pointless effort, while ignoring the real causes of trouble. And the history of the obesity era has yet to be written.