Perverting the Utility of Shame


Speaking of an ailing civic system, Megan McArdle’s worth reading on the subject of public shaming:

In the small groups we evolved to live in, shame is tempered by love and forgiveness. People are shamed for some transgression, then they are restored to the group. Ultimately, the shamed person is not an enemy; he or she is someone you need and want to get along with. This is how you make up with your spouse after one or both of you has done or said something terrible. …

On the Internet, when all the social context is stripped away and you don’t even have to look at the face of the person you’re being mean to, shame loses its social, restorative function. Shame-storming isn’t punishment. It’s a weapon. And weapons aren’t supposed to be used against people in your community; they’re for strangers, people in some other group that you don’t like very much.

The Internet has brought things to a sharp edge, but anybody involved in local politics — particularly if they face progressives who believe they speak for The Community — will recognize McArdle’s notion of shaming as a weapon against an enemy group.  That pretty precisely describes my experience in Tiverton.

Glenn Reynolds sharpens the edge a little more, writing:

They’re not well-meaning people who want to make our shared society better, and sometimes just get carried away. They’re angry, vicious people who want to eliminate disagreement.

At this level of conversation, though, the “they” has to be defined.  McArdle suggests that the people engaged in online social shaming probably would back away from a mob doing it to somebody in person.

Many on the political Right want to turn the psychological warfare of Saul Alinsky back on the Left, but that strikes me as a misunderstanding of objectives (or perhaps evidence that the objectives of some of our conservative friends are more alike to those of our progressive non-friends than should be the case).  Rather, we need a counter-weapon, and as difficult as it might be, the sole antidote may be standing up to the attacks and letting those who’ve sided with the attackers slowly come to the realization that they’re on the wrong side.