Shaming 101

Monica Lewinsky has made a stir with her TED talk on cyber bullying and shaming in general.  There are lots of reasons to think about this, and she tends to treat it as a moral issue. Fair enough. But it is more than that.

Shaming is a tactic that humans have employed for as long as we have been communicating. It is a disciplinary tool. Remember the practice of being put in the stocks?  Public humiliation, it was thought, would improve behavior.

The key was that the shamer should have the authority to shame. Then the shaming was about enforcing generally accepted norms. But our modern society no longer works quite this way. Our communications are far more free than they used to be. We can “say whatever we want” and we do so. And we shame each other.

It is important to keep in mind that doing this has effects beyond the communication itself. Those effects tend to promote rather than diminish personal conflict. And they tend to diminish the creative aspects of further exchanges.

In other words, it helps make us stupid. Well, go for it if that is what you want to be.

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