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Can national shame lead to political change?


ABC Radio


The Minefield Waleed Aly and Scott Stephens


There is no denying the power of patriotic sentiment. The ferocity with which many, particularly in the United States and Australia, are pushing back against a number of thoroughgoing attempts to reckon with the sins of the past – from the furore surrounding the 1619 Project and Critical Race Theory to the dogged resistance to efforts to abolish “Australia Day” and certain proposed changes to Australia’s national history curriculum – seems to suggest that they are convinced that their sense of national pride might not survive such a reckoning. It would be better, they seem to think, not to know.

But to refuse a reckoning with the past cannot be the answer either, for not only is such deliberate forgetting (every such claim of spurious innocence or exculpatory ignorance) itself a form of ongoing complicity in past injustice, but it also represents an egregious expression of contempt towards those members of our political community who continue to live with the wounds of past injustice.

Perhaps the better question is whether being ashamed of one’s nation – which is to say, having the sense of being implicated by, even complicit in, or at least of benefitting from, actions that one finds morally repulsive – can prove to be both as powerful as a sense of national pride, and as conducive to collective change?

This 54-minute ABC Radion National Minefield podcast challenges our thinking about reconciliation at all levels from the personal to the public dimensions of change.

The guest in this episode is Dr Alexis Shotwell Alexis Shotwell is a Professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology and the Department of Philosophy at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. She is the author of Against Purity: Living Ethically in Compromised Times.

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