‘People are strange when you’re a stranger’1: shame, the self and some pathologies of social imagination

  • C Kostopoulos


In this paper I respond to Samantha Vice’s prescriptions for living morally as a white person in South Africa today. I allow that her ‘How do I live in this strange place?’ (2010) is convincing when read – probably against intent – as a descriptive account. It fails, though, in its attempt to provide an attractive set of moral prescriptions. I set out an argument against both shame and silence, focussing primarily on shame as I contend that the need to withdraw or keep silent follows from feeling ashamed. I argue that shame is experienced as a diminution of the self, whereas guilt is experienced as a burdening of the self by wrongful behaviour; the diminution of the self in shame experiences is intrinsically harmful, and instead of enabling the self
to be moral, actually inhibits the moral instincts of a person by cutting the self off from other selves. In a group context this type of severance has unhealthy moral features, as well as negative consequences for inter-group relations.

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eISSN: 0258-0136