Shame and Reframe to Maintain Social Order.

This one was requested a while ago by asdgamer and, having given it some thought, this is my opinion as to how and why the common “shame and reframe” debate tactic became such an important element to female debate arsenal.

Shame and reframe (S&R), as a tactic, is composed of two parts. There is the shaming element, which involves taking another person’s viewpoint, character or even their debate tactic and trying to make them sound bad. There is no substance to shaming, it is simply the act of saying “bad, bad person” until they are ashamed enough to withdraw their comment or rephrase the argument.

The reframing argument involves taking an actual question or topic and avoiding it by bringing up another one. Common forms involve answering a question with a question, turning the question on the person asking it or creating a false simile to work from.

S&R allows someone who is in an uncomfortable position to avoid explicitly stating a controversial opinion, agreeing openly with their debate rival or accepting a flaw in their logic.

For example, in a parenting group a mother may say: “I believe infants and mothers should be together until an age when the child would have naturally weaned, say, a year or two years.”

Most of the other mothers disagree. They think that the advantages of extra work and resources outweigh the disadvantages of missing out on that early bonding. The logical response would be to simply say this.

But then feelings get in the way. The feel bad about not spending more time with their kids. They feel offended that someone might consider them worse mothers. They feel judged and persecuted.

So instead of responding rationally and giving “the enemy” more ammunition, they S&R.

“You only say that because you’re a stay at home mother.”

“If you got your degree, you would be out here earning money with us.”

“Fathers don’t spend that time with kids, why should we have to?”

“Weaning can happen at any age now.”

“It’s rude to imply all mothers can breastfeed.”

What have they done? Well, instead of addressing her actual point they try and make her ashamed. They use her lifestyle (stay at home mother), education (if you got your degree) and even twist her words (imply all mothers can breastfeed) to make her embarrassed, so that she takes back her words and doesn’t upset them any more. Instead of admitting they put resources before bonding, they reframe the argument. They use false similes (fathers), diversions (its rude to…) and technicalities (weaning can happen at any age now) to direct the argument away from the issue the first mother raised.

In debate, this is a pretty awful tactic. Nobody would ever reach consensus, work out theories or convert nonbelievers if we all debated like this. Life would be stagnant.

But as an evolutionary adaptation, S&R is actually very useful and protects the integrity of the group.

You see, when that mother was shamed, it was expected that she would take back what she said. Why? So that the majority opinion can win. The majority state that work is favourable over bonding, therefore, if the minority converted the majority, an entire way of life would be thrown out. She needs to understand that she is the minority, the outcast, and cannot overthrow the majority opinion. A majority cannot be shamed like this. It doesn’t work on them. But a minority will often take back their statement when shamed. This is the most basic form of democracy.

Reframing takes the debate away from a topic that the majority wish to avoid. In essence, by reframing the majority are stating that this topic is taboo. In any social group, a taboo enforced by a majority is a cornerstone for social order. In this case, the taboo is the feelings of the mothers. Naturally, biologically, they wish to be with their children. Yet on a logical level, they feel that working for resources is the best option. If they wish to continue working for resources with which to feed their children, they must avoid all discussion on the biological reality of motherhood.

In short S&R stagnates and kills debate because that’s what it’s meant to do. S&R enforces the status quo and defends the right of the majority (democracy) and the cultural norms of the society (taboos), keeping the group operating the way that has benefited them until now.

However ineffective it is for philosophical, theological, sociological or political debate, S&R persists because it’s one of the best ways of creating and maintaining order.

And that is my analysis of shaming and reframing.

Anyone have anything to add?

TTFN and Happy Hunting!

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