December 13, 2011

Jeffrey Sachs and vergüenza ajena

When a couple of months ago I read With 7 billion on earth, a huge task before us by Jeffrey Sachs I felt vergüenza ajena, which Wikipedia defines as:
Sense of shame on behalf of another person, even though that person may not experience shame themselves—for example, cringing when watching a very bad comic—generally more intense when the other is well known to you, though possible even when you dislike the other person—similar to the Dutch term plaatsvervangende schaamte and the German term Fremdschämen— 'external shame' or 'vicarious embarrassment', being vicariously embarrassed by someone else. The humor enacted by video clips of very bad auditions for televised talent shows leverage the vicarious pain of this emotion. It is also known as 'Spanish Shame'.
I have just found the following comment by Bradley Calder on another blog:
Sachs knows the more he agrees with people who advocate for environmentalism, the more money he is likely to make through speaking engagements and so forth. None of this surprises me.
I had the same thought when I read Sachs's article, but that didn't diminish my vergüenza ajena. Curiously, reading Calder's comment has diminished it. Perhaps seeing other people openly describe Sachs's article as a marketing device, and not as an intellectual product, somehow makes the whole act less ridiculous in my eyes.

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