Audiobook Review: So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed

So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, by Jon Ronson, read by Jon Ronson

I must say at the outset, in case anyone reads or listens to this book, that the author is not someone I think I would personally like.  He’s a whiny, tenderhearted liberal who brags about his vegetarianism and has a great deal of disdain for godly morality.  Added to this is the fact that he is not an appealing sounding voice, and is rather irritating to listen.  Despite all this, though, I find the author’s views on shame [1] to be deeply interesting and at least partly worthwhile to put into practice.  If the author is not a sympathetic person, he deserves at least some respect for having thought about the increase of shaming on social media and for the prurient aspects of human nature, including a fair amount of bloodlust and schadenfreude, that have experienced a dramatic resurgence since the rise of social media.  We once fancied the pillory and the stocks and the use of public shame as a deterrent to evil to be a bygone relic of barbarous times only to find out that we are the new barbarians and are relishing it.  This is an unsettling reality, to be sure.

The book itself takes six discs and shows the author on a tour of shame in the contemporary and historical world.  Although the author’s previous works were somewhat zany, this one is deeply serious and pointed, as the author looks at the victims of internet shamings and the damage it did to most of them, the way that certain offenses–especially consensual sexual ones–appear not to be subject of very much shame for men at least, and even a look at shame in history and how one erases a meme that has gone out of hand, and the dark roots of Zimbardo’s ideas about social contagion.  The author talks about the ubiquity of shame in our justice system–one aspect of its injustice, it should be pointed out–and the ways that the author years for a shame free society where people are free to be what they are.  I must admit that I’m not on board with this goal, for reasons I will shortly discuss, but I think it is important that we differentiate between shame as a method of robbing people of their dignity and guilt that naturally should result from having done wrong.

Ultimately, the author’s whiny liberal attitude keeps me from wholeheartedly endorsing and enjoying this book.  The author is quick to excuse people who are guilty of real evil simply because they had a tough life, an abdication of personal responsibility that is shameful and contemptible.  Additionally, he views conservatism as a bad thing, as if it was a bad thing to be prudent and careful, in awareness that the world was an unkind place and one needed to live wisely in it.  For these reasons I find the author not a very good authority on matters of shame.  Even so, despite these considerable disagreements, I do agree that our contemporary mania for shame is a very bad thing, and we would do a lot better if we were less intent on destroying other people for having crossed lines (often in heedlessness and silliness) and maintained a strong view of guilt that would help us keep on the straight and narrow while also preserving and increasing a view of human dignity that counters the corrosive effects of shame in our world, where an errant tweet or minor faux pas can lead to months and years of misery and despair, a state of affairs no one should celebrate.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2015/09/11/shame-on-the-moon/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2014/07/06/isaiah-54-for-you-will-forget-the-shame-of-your-youth/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2013/10/11/the-walk-of-shame/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2011/04/21/overcoming-the-culture-of-shame/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2018/07/11/true-confessions-of-a-pitchfork-wielding-peasant-from-an-internet-lynch-mob/

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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