*It would all be behind him in no time, the middle-aged businessman was telling the reporter on a network TV morning show.

According to him, the whole thing–the  accusations of his adultery with  a former  friend’s wife;  his alleged embezzlement of his company’s funds, that unsavory  rumor regarding  weekend swingers parties in the basement of his suburban home while his kids slept upstairs–all of it was simply a misunderstanding, unfortunate and unfair.  Sitting with his legs crossed and impeccably dressed in a tailored dark blue suit, he looked healthy, fit  and rested.

And there was no shame.

Nowhere on the man’s face, in his solemn, commanding voice or in his assured body language  was there  any  indication of regret, compunction or remorse  for his assorted despicable deeds.  Even after  being exposed for the carpet bagger  he is,   the mess of a man continued to strut in the public eye as if he’d done nothing for which he should be the slightest  self conscious.

The daily news is filled with people like him: brain dead politicians, drugged out actresses, sexed up actors, bold mistresses of powerful men, delusional stage mothers and infamous  CEOs, among others,  all of them acting out an assortment of sensational  circumstance on the stage of life.

And those are only the rich and the famous.  In everyday life,  “normal” men and women of all ages, backgrounds and persuasions  do battle with their own  demons. What many of those famous folk and private citizens  have in common  is that none  appear  to give a rat’s booty what anyone thinks about  their shenanigans.

Welcome to the age of the shameless.

It is an  era where someone  commits an injustice and  sues YOU for simply being in their path the moment they lost all common sense.  This is where people possess the remarkable capacity for ignoring the painfully obvious;  where  half the truth will do.  In the age of the shameless, the Emperor,  naked as a jaybird, is  praised for how good he looks in Armani.

Indulge me as I reminiscence back to a time when  there was a thing  called shame. Not the ’70s disco hit by Evelyn “Champagne” King  and not self-loathing or  wallowing in guilt,  but that thing human beings used to feel and  exude when they were discovered to  have done something wrong or socially unacceptable.

Remember  the good ol’ days, when people actually got  embarrassed about stuff? There’d be an apology, a seemingly wholehearted hanging of the head and the obligatory laying of the low until  the weight of what they’d done was somehow diminished by sincere contrition, the passing of time or until their misconduct was overshadowed by someone else’s misconduct.

Students used to be ashamed of not having their  homework done; generally, people used to be regretful of hurting  another’s feelings. We used to be embarrassed for knowingly not doing the right thing.

Today, a person commits a misdeed and is applauded for  having the impudence to say, “So what?”  Rude and reckless conduct is  branded as  wit and spunk and even courage.

I’m no doctor, but it seems to me that much of our  nasty behavior can traced back to something as uncomplicated as the lack of old  fashioned  home training.

I don’t remember the moment I learned most of the  life lessons my parents taught me.  Like a bird that instinctively flies for the first time or salmon that somehow  knows it’s supposed to swim upstream,  one day I just knew.

While being programmed basic etiquette and  consideration for others, I was also instilled with the concept of personal responsibility.  It was important to do the right thing–whatever that was in a given instance–and there was a price  to be paid for doing otherwise.

Of course, knowing right from wrong didn’t mean I always chose the right thing,  back then or now. And parents aren’t always to  blame when their child grows up to act a  fool (just as the offspring of lousy parents don’t have to end up like them).  However,  in learning the difference, I also came to know that wrong wasn’t something to be proud of. Sometimes, the consequence of shame is enough to keep one out of trouble.

Not everyone feels this way.  Today, not only is imbecility often given a pass,  it can be rewarded.  In a society driven by self-importance–an all-about-me perspective fueled by Facebook, Twitter and YouTube–nothing promotes shamelessness like Reality TV.  A medium narcissistic by design,  in Reality TV the prerequisite for stardom  is  the unmitigated willingness to (appear to)  let it all hang out for the camera.  Never say the Kardashians are “famous simply for being famous.” They do in fact possess a distinct talent: an extraordinary propensity for being shameless enough to have shamelessness be their chief  skill.

But then, as a culture, in our shamelessness we are irreparably entrenched. When the  authenticity of a  fast food chain’s beef was recently called into question, the company fired back. There is, too, meat in our “beef,” the chain insisted–not 100%  meat,  but enough to legally be defined as  “beef.”

To deem that kind of language a defense, even if the government doesn’t require what is called beef to be totally beef,  takes a certain audacity.  It’s the same strain of gall  required  for the pop star   who isn’t much of a performer, singer or musician but who proudly calls themselves an  “entertainer.”  In both cases we have to ask, where is the beef?  The self-respect?

Am I the only one asking how in the world can anything Senator John McCain says—anything–be taken seriously, after he put Sarah Palin in the universe? There is absolutely no shame in this man’s game.

But as a society, we have less and less  room to complain. That’s because  increasingly our compliance alters what is and isn’t okay.  We stand  idly by as politicians seek to rewrite American history; as posers decide what is art.  More and more, the  line between fact and fiction becomes impossibly blurred. Yet, nobody’s embarrassed or mortified or red in the face. And that’s not merely a shame. That’s a damn shame.

Steven Ivory, journalist and author of the essay collection Fool In Love  (Simon & Schuster),  has covered popular culture for magazines, newspapers, radio and TV for more than 30 years. Respond to him via [email protected].