“So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed” – or – It’s Gonna Be Hard To Apologize With My Boot In Your Mouth

“I suppose it’s no surprise that we feel the need to dehumanize the people we hurt—before, during, or after the hurting occurs. But it always comes as a surprise. In psychology it’s known as cognitive dissonance. It’s the idea that it feels stressful and painful for us to hold two contradictory ideas at the same time (like the idea that we’re kind people and the idea that we’ve just destroyed someone). And so to ease the pain we create illusory ways to justify our contradictory behavior.”
Jon Ronson, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed

In my undergraduate psychology courses, I was fascinated with the concepts of disintegrative and reintegrative shaming. Disintegrative shaming pushes the shamed further and further away from the community, while reintegrative shaming punishes transgression but uses means that will reinforce the communal bonds. As we examined mental health treatments and facilities, prisons and systems of punishment, I realized that we are not particularly interested in the area of reintegrative shaming. We’d much rather drop the hammer (proverbial or not) and smear our bodies with the offender’s blood (figuratively… or not). We specialize in disintegration. That’s the sort of visceral, immediate, and devastating justice that society prefers (for some people), and the people who suggest more reintegrative methods are usually dismissed for being “soft” or “liberal” or “panty waists” or whatever terms seems most insulting to the issuer of said insult.
As a society, we’ve decided that it’s acceptable to dog pile people who should “know better”… you should know better than to joke about X and Y… you should know better than to have an opinion about Z… you should know better than to have THAT opinion about Z… you should know better than to express your opinion if you’re an A, B, C, or W… and nowhere are these arbitrary rules enforced more strenuously than on the internet.

Jon Ronson’s “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed” covers the squicky topic of online shaming thoroughly and adequately, and it was clear that Jon had done his homework, although the slightly random forays into Jon’s research jaunts grated on me a bit…
“I joined this group and everyone shouted obscenities at me and told me that I was condescending and looked at my phone too much, and I condescendingly rejected their opinion while looking at my phone.”
“They wanted me to dress like a woman and I thought it would be cool because I would experience street harassment, but then I felt weird and didn’t do it, and they were annoyed with me.”
“I watched a live S&M act in a club!”
These diversions weren’t exactly non sequiturs, but they didn’t add much to the narrative for me, and I started to get a bit bored when we would suddenly transition from “Online Shaming!” to “Sex Club Stuff!”

On the positive note, Jon makes several points about the internet’s ability to give power and influence to those who have traditionally been people without either, and how that power and influence can give way to large swathes of people who, feeling their oats, will collectively dive onto a target who says something stupid or offensive.
I do understand the instinct. There comes a point when one gets tired of hearing people say stupid and offensive things and being expected to swallow it without reply, or worse, with a hearty laugh. The resentment that such encounters leaves behind could melt your insides into acid, but in the real world, I’m not allowed to go up to such a lout and belt them in the face. Online, the medicine is being dished without reserve, but it’s also transforming a group of people into one of nature’s ugliest phenomenons: a mob.

Perhaps the solution is simply, “Cool your jets and don’t be a jerk online.” People who consistently run off at the mouth need to take that suggestion to heart… I’m sure you think you’re funny… I’m sure your friends think you’re cool… but free speech applies to everyone, and if you can tell a gross joke, I am technically within my rights to promptly call you a “purple hued maltworm.” However, setting our agreed-upon rights aside, we have to look at what is healthy for us as individuals and as a society of people who hate each other’s guts.
Calling someone out on their nonsense? Healthy.
Publishing their address and encouraging violent crimes to be committed? NOT HEALTHY.
Disagreeing with someone? Healthy.
Making sure that said person never works… anywhere… ever, ever again?  NOT HEALTHY.
Some people are TERRIBLE and TERRIBLE people need to know that their TERRIBLENESS is on record, but if everyone holding said TERRIBLE folks to a higher standard of… er… NOT TERRIBLENESS… has devolved to be their own flavor of TERRIBLE, then what have we accomplished? We’ve just spread the terrible around, denying humanity to the person being shamed and cheapened our own humanity in the process.

There’s so much more to this… but this post was simply meant to be a book review and here I’ve gone all preachy.
Bottom line: “So You’ve Been Shamed on the Internet” is an okay read (three stars, give or take it), worth sharing with friends, and don’t be a jerk on the internet.


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