Who should be shamed, and who not?

Let’s start with the distiction between people and their ideas and also their behavior.  We might condemn the ideas of a person without condeming the person himself.  Of course, if the ideas are very, very bad, sometimes we condemn the person too.

We seem to mind less when the bad ideas come from another time and space altogether.  For instance, hardly anyone seems to mind if a Mexican migrant has incorrect and deeply offensive views on the Oapan-Sam Miguel land disputes.  Those beliefs, even if they sanction violence against innocents for the purposes of land grabs, don’t impinge much on current American status competitions.  Similary, I don’t see that many objections to intellectual “monuments” erected in favor of classical Athens, in spite of the significant role of slavery in that society.  The pro-Athenian faction isn’t going to command any electoral votes the next cycle.  Was Joan of Arc problematic?

How many people object if a high percentage of the best jobs for Indian-Americans go to members of higher castes?  Does anyone push for affirmative action within the Indian-American community?  Not that I am aware of.  Those status contests aren’t salient for most of us.

I see many people who have behaved very badly — and here I mean legally convicted criminals — but where the prevailing “mood affiliation” among American liberal intellectuals is to favor their rehabilitation.  For instance, if a company does not ask job applicants if they have criminal records, this is considered to be good, and maybe it is.  For one thing, many of those criminals are the products of bad circumstances and we may have various (true) theories that help to excuse their behavior.  So we don’t go to the nth degree to shame and disgrace those ex-criminals, even if they have been convicted of prior violent activities.

How are we then to feel about contemporary neo-Nazis?  Most of them have not been convicted of anything at all.  Yet right now we are going to great lengths to shame and disgrace them.  We regard them as on a lower moral rung than the convicted criminals.  But is wishing for violence that much worse than having committed it yourself?

Or sometimes those two qualities go together.  If you are a neo-Nazi and you have committed a violent act, like the guy who drove that car into the crowd, it seems OK to put your photo on the internet in any kind of stereotypically despised, lookist, “white filth” portrayal that is possible, with maximum scorn and contempt.  Should we cover a prisoner on Death Row the same way?  What about someone who has been judged mentally ill?  What if in the meantime we simply do not know?

There may be a good utilitarian reason for the distinctions we draw, namely that we wish to discourage neo-Nazi behavior, and the behavior of potential copycats, for future-oriented reasons.   (Is that shaming even the most effective way to do so?  We don’t seem to obsess over shame threats for convicted criminals, to keep them — and others — on “the right track.”).  Perhaps shaming and disgracing them is necessary because they hold very bad ideologies, and perhaps potentially contagious ideologies, ideologies that most violent criminals do not seem to promulgate.

Maybe this utilitarian view is correct, namely that the shaming of an individual should depend on social context and political impact, and not just on the prior behavior of that individual.  But then notice what we are doing, we are moving away from moral individualism ourselves, and treating the shamed person as a means in the Kantian sense.  I even feel that such shaming makes me a slight bit like them, in a way I wish to avoid.

Do I have the option of just feeling sorry for the neo-Nazis, and at the same time dreading their possible social impact, in the way one might dread and hate a tornado?  But not shaming or scolding them?

Or should I feel bad about benefiting from the shaming activities of others, and being a kind of free-riding Kantian moral purist?

What if deterrence is not your actual goal with the shaming, but rather you are shaming for the purposes of motivating your own “troops”?

Another group being shamed over the course of the last week has been the misogynistic EJMR posters.  But I am curious as to the implicit theories held by the shamers here.  Why do those men write such nasty things?  Is it all just bad socialization, or might some of them them have a genetic inclination toward such behavior?  But once we consider the latter, we seem dangerously into the kind of stereotyping we were objecting to just a moment ago, when we sought to shame them.

What if sexual bullying lies deep in male DNA?  Not for everyone of course, but for some people.  And those same people may well have grown up in disadvantageous circumstances, surrounded by the wrong kinds of nerds, and then they ended up sad and broken on EJMR, for lack of having had the right role models.

Overall I am not impressed by how most of you are writing and thinking about these issues.  I wish to shame you a bit.  Everyone wishes to shame someone.  For me it’s you — sorry!


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