Crime and Punishment

The Shame Sham

March 24, 2014

Multiple Pages
The Shame Sham

Like all societies before it, our society considers nothing more shameful than to be shameless. Thus, the Internet—which binds our society together like cheese binds a colon—is crammed with so much public shaming, it should be ashamed of itself.

Sticking your fist into the electronic beehive, you will be bitten by a thousand types of public shaming: age-shaming v. youth-shaming, slut-shaming v. virgin-shaming, fat-shaming v. skinny-shaming, and poor-shaming v. wealth-shaming. You will find liberals shaming liberals in the ongoing intersectionality wars, resulting in gay-on-gay shaming and black-on-black shaming.

Ain’t that a shame? Yes, it is. It’s a shame indeed, but don’t expect the public shamers to feel ashamed of their public shaming. Have they no shame? No, not for themselves. Like all moralists, they exist only to shame others.

“Like all societies before it, our society considers nothing more shameful than to be shameless.”

Public shaming is nothing new. It has long and ignoble history, from Roman crucifixions to the Spanish Inquisition to the “shame societies” of China (with its psychotic and murderous struggle sessions) and Japan (with its ritual of seppuku which, though self-directed, is often spurred by a suicidal sense of social shame). Every self-justifying social organism—i.e., all of them—puts its outliers and miscreants through some form of hairshirts, dunce caps, perp walks, and tarring and feathering, and they never seem to feel ashamed of indulging in such cruel and depressingly typical rituals, at least not while it’s happening. Societies only seem capable of coming to terms with their collective potential for cruelty when it is too late to do anything about it. Thus, Americans still shed tears about Emmett Till and the Scottsboro Boys while turning a blind eye to modern black flash mobs.

Puritan New England remains infamous for its public stockades and witch trials and coldhearted shunning of anyone who dared deviate from the rigidly humorless social norm. This colonial culture of shaming was immortalized two centuries later in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, where accused adulteress Hester Prynne was forced to wear a red “A” on her dress as a lifelong emblem of shame.

Those who foolishly believe that history is linear rather than cyclical seem to feel that we’ve progressed past such shaming rituals. After all, adultery is no longer a shunning offense; in some circles, it’s a matter of pride.

And it’s true that America’s legal system no longer dunks witches in water or places offenders in the stocks for passersby to hurl rotten fruit at them. But it still exists in the form of judges sentencing petty offenders to public-humiliation rituals where they are forced to stand in public wearing sandwich boards declaring their crime.

Outside the legal system, our reputedly “progressive” society has merely swapped out the scarlet “A” for a scarlet “R,” a scarlet “S,” and a scarlet “H”—sometimes all three at once. Modern social-justice warriors, those little mob-motivated creeps, justify their behavior with the excuse that at least this time around, they’re fighting for an irrefutably righteous cause.

Sure. That’s what they all say.

What makes Internet-directed public shaming more insidious and cowardly than all prior forms is its ability to muster a million torch-bearers at once, none of whom is required to face their target in the flesh and look him in the eyes.

Thus you have little beta twerps such as the alleged male who runs something called “Public Shaming” on Tumblr, Twitter, and Facebook, all of it ostensibly designed to induce shame in those who merely think differently than he does, but most of which probably only makes likeminded chicken-chested snark-babies feel good about themselves. “I’m not a social crusader,” claims the man-child behind the Public Shaming project. “But there is social activism in [what I do].” Such social activism includes calling others “racist fucking shitheads,” “repugnant little slimeballs,” “xenophobic idiots,” and in one case, “a vile monster void [sic] of emotion and compassion.”

Yeah, he sounds highly compassionate. It’s not like he’s a clone in an endless assembly line of “humanists” who seem to spend most of their time dehumanizing others. Cookie-cutter prog blogs such as Gawker and Huffington Post even have metadata tags for the phrase “Public Shaming.” These are the neo-Puritans, so blinded by their own smug sense of righteousness, they can’t even see it.

Internet public shaming reaches its most nauseating and damaging level in the cases of parents who trot out their kids like little Salem witches for all the world to mock. At least dog-shaming doesn’t work because dogs, bless them, feel no shame. But for parents to treat their own spawn like Hester Prynne in order to score social-righteousness points reminds me of the Frank Zappa line, “If your children ever find out how lame you really are, they’ll murder you in your sleep”—and he said that decades before YouTube existed to immortalize parental lameness.

When I was about three or four, I said the word “shit” in front of my mother, who then forced me to stand and repeat the word “shit” uninterrupted for a half-hour. The end result was that I kept saying “shit” throughout my life while convinced that my mother was sadistic.

On my first day of first grade, two boys got into a fight out in the schoolyard, and to shame them, the nuns made them kiss each other in front of the entire class. I felt bad for the boys and concluded that the nuns were sadistic.

When examining human behavior, especially when it hinges around guilt, it’s always wise to consider the ubiquity of psychological projection. Maybe those who make a habit of shaming others only do so because they’re easily shamed themselves. I wonder to what degree the currently fashionable hatred of the rich has to do with feelings of shame for not being nearly so successful. I also wonder what amount of black rage about slavery—and the subsequent never-ending campaign to shame white people about it—involves a deep-rooted shame over the fact that it was so easy to enslave them.

Public shaming would only seem to work on those pitiable social creatures who respect and fear the public’s opinion. If you don’t respect the crowd, there’s no shame in being ostracized. If a person has the merest sense of self beyond their social identity, public shaming will fail. Thus, there’s no shame in my game.


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