Public Shaming as a Security Measure
In Liars and Outliers, I talk a lot about the more social forms of security. One of them is reputational. This post is about that squishy sociological security measure: public shaming as a way to punish bigotry (and, by extension, to reduce the incidence of bigotry).
It’s a pretty rambling post, first listing some of the public shaming sites, then trying to figure out whether they’re a good idea or not, and finally coming to the conclusion that shaming doesn’t do very much good and—in many cases—unjustly rewards the shamer.
I disagree with a lot of this. I do agree with:
I do think that shame has a role in the way we control our social norms. Shame is a powerful tool, and it’s something that we use to keep our own actions in check all the time. The source of that shame varies immensely. Maybe we are shamed before God, or our parents, or our boss.
But I disagree with the author’s insistence that “shame, ultimately, has to come from ourselves. We cannot be forced to feel shame.” While technically it’s true, operationally it’s not. Shame comes from others’ reactions to our actions. Yes, we feel it inside—but it originates from out lifelong inculcation into the norms of our social group. And throughout the history of our species, social groups have used shame to effectively punish those who violate social norms. No one wants a bad reputation.
It’s also true that we all have defenses against shame. One of them is to have an alternate social group for whom the shameful behavior is not shameful at all. Another is to simply not care what the group thinks. But none of this makes shame a less valuable tool of societal pressure.
Like all forms of security that society uses to control its members, shame is both useful and valuable. And I’m sure it is effective against bigotry. It might not be obvious how to deploy it effectively in the international and sometimes anonymous world of the Internet, but that’s another discussion entirely.