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Thread: Public Humiliation: Fair, Macabre, or Consequential?

  1. #1

    Question Public Humiliation: Fair, Macabre, or Consequential?

    The Ethics of Public Shaming by S. Goguen (A Boston University Philosophy Graduate Student)

    Public shaming has been discussed as a potential tool to help address hostile environments in philosophy, as well. I *think* the general consensus is something like: public shaming is a very large, powerful weapon, so we should only use only it [sic] against egregious, extraordinary evils. The punishment should fit the crime, and all that. Furthermore, as academics, our names and our reputations are our livelihoods, to some degree. Therefore, a tool that can destroy our status as a credible, trustworthy member of our academic community, is a professionally lethal one. Potentially lethal sanctions should be handled carefully, conservatively, and should not be normalized as a go-to response for minor (even if certain) instances of offense. Publicly shaming everyone and anyone who makes any misstep in regards to fostering a flourishing community would set a dangerous precedent that could lead to paranoia and the suppression the free flow of ideas. It would trade one kind of hostile community for another.

    I would argue though (and I think many would agree) that the worry above needs to be balanced with the worry that by branding public shaming as a WMD or ‘nuclear option’ of dealing with -isms (sexism, racism, etc), oppressive environments, and injustice in general within our community and work spaces, we might be overly protective of the status-quo when it already has numerous protections in place (both fair and unfair.) The people negatively affected the most by the behavior we want to curb, however, do not have the same degree of protection in place. So in that sense, restricting the use of public shaming to only circumstances that by themselves, in isolation, seem to merit such shaming, could be unfairly ignoring how individual events contribute to a large-scale problem.
    I want to end on a personal note, and acknowledge there is a bullet here I need to bite. I am planning on having some of my work be in philosophy of race. Since I am white, there will be more than a few instances where I will make mistakes that are racist, racially insensitive, oblivious to my privilege, and just plain careless. (Actually, this will happen even if I don’t work in phil. of race) If I really believe what I have said above, then I must be willing to have some of those stupid mistakes warrant reactions that will probably feel feel deeply unfair to me (Because I didn’t mean to! Because I’m normally a good ally! Because I’m not personally responsible for the whole institution of racism!) But it’s also not fair that others–my colleagues–will bear the brunt of the damage my mistakes will cause, whereas those mistakes will have little effect on me. So I should be willing to accept a reaction that is harsh (beyond what my offense by itself deserves or merits)–not because I am indeed individually responsible for all of racism–but because accepting such a reaction as fitting may help dismantle a hostile atmosphere that I have contributed to but do not primarily suffer from. (Of course a lot rides on the strength of that “may.”) But that seems only fair if we take seriously our status as a community of scholars earning a livelihood.
    Goguen's online essay is focused on online public shaming as a result of a perceived "-ism" and her support of that phenomenon. But there are other reasons and contexts surrounding public shaming, often out in the real world rather than online, and I'll add some links to the major ones if you guys aren't familiar with them. There's been quite a spate in recent years.

    Here's a link to a dissenting view, The Problem with Public Shaming

    Contemporary Examples:

    In the public square:
    Donglegate at PyCon (Op/ed in support of said shaming) (Op/ed in censure of said shaming), which was the author's referential event
    Obnoxious train passenger aka cheating husband outed online
    Paula Deen's fall from grace

    Sorority Girl Rebecca Martinson Shows the True Meaning of Sisterhood

    Shena Hardin, joined by supporter, refuses to apologize on 2nd day of idiot-sign punishment
    Judge Gives Mother Option To Chop Off Daughter's Ponytail for Reduced Sentencing
    Harris Co. Employee & Spouse Get Humiliating Sentence

    Mother & Daughter Stole From 9y.o., Choose Public Shaming
    A quick online search will yield scores of other examples. Shaming sentences aim to cut costs

    Parental punishment:

    Dad Shoots Daughter's Laptop
    Ohio Mom Punishes Daughter on Facebook
    Father Punishes Son for Failing Grades
    Shaming Children In Public A Nat'l Trend

    There is a lot to discuss, but the biggest question I have for you all is, what do you think of public shaming, either by parents, the courts, or in the public square? Feel free to elaborate.
    "There is no god; there is only us. Savage and fragile."

  2. #2
    Per Ardua Array Metamorphosis's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2007


    If you're shaming someone in order to change their behavior then you've probably failed at explaining a reasonable argument in an understandable way. It doesn't teach people to act a certain way because it's right. It teaches them to act a certain way for fear of punishment. It really isn't the same thing. It's really up in the air whether someone would respond by conforming or lashing out.

    If you're intention is to create resentment, hate, and violence, then I think humiliation is an excellent way to go.

    With that said, I haven't read the articles yet.

    Edit to add: I think, like most ideas dealing with people that don't conform, no one thinks "How would this effect me if it were done to me?" They think, "Yeah, that person deserves that." Epic fail.

    "The trouble with fighting for human freedom is that one spends most of one's time defending scoundrels. For it is against scoundrels that oppressive laws are first aimed, and oppression must be stopped at the beginning if it is to be stopped at all." - H.L. Mencken
    "You will always be fond of me. I represent to you all the sins you never had the courage to commit."

    Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office
    than to serve and obey them. - David Hume

  3. #3
    trapped in zoobilee zoo Array Osprey's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2008


    What's wrong with public shaming? McCarthy had the right idea, just the wrong politics.
    Free me from Zoobilee Zoo...

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