If you’re interested in honor-shame dynamics, this is a fascinating article from Helen Andrews. She comments on her own experience of being shamed by the mob online and draws some interesting lessons.
The more online shame cycles you observe, the more obvious the pattern becomes: Everyone comes up with a principled-sounding pretext that serves as a barrier against admitting to themselves that, in fact, all they have really done is joined a mob. Once that barrier is erected, all rules of decency go out the window, but the pretext is almost always a lie.
The idea that online shaming is a form of debate—or in any way oriented toward finding the truth—is a delusion. Dialogue is not the point…There is no content to a shame storm. It is mindless by its very nature. It is indifferent to truth, even in cases where the truth could possibly be determined. Therefore, like the Ring, it cannot be used for good.
The solution, then, is not to try to make shame storms well targeted, but to make it so they happen as infrequently as possible. Editors should refuse to run stories that have no value except humiliation, and readers should refuse to click on them. It is, after all, the moral equivalent of contributing your rock to a public stoning.
As for the people who find themselves at the center of an online shaming, I can only report how I made peace with mine. Ironically, the disagreement that gave Todd the idea that I had a “cruelty-based worldview” was over my belief that suffering is sometimes necessary for personal growth, and an essential part of God’s plan for our salvation—a belief that, as a strict utilitarian, Todd completely rejects. We had a dozen fights about it. The irony, of course, is that there is no belief my brush with online shaming confirmed more. I had heard the maxim that there is no humility without humiliation—how true it proved. My first reaction to the video was to feel aggrieved, thinking that I did not deserve what was happening to me, but on the Day of Judgment all my sins will be shouted from the housetops, and Todd’s rant will sound like a retirement luncheon toast in comparison. Of course I deserved it, and worse; most of us poor sinners do.
The truth that Wilde came to understand, which he shared with his fellow exile, was that they should accept their chastening in a spirit of gratitude. Nothing had been taken from them that would not be restored a hundredfold if they allowed their experience to do its redemptive work.
1 - I don’t want to participate in shame storms.
2 - I am amazed at God’s grace, that even someone who has been so harmed by this experience could write such a testimony to God’s goodness in the aftermath of it.
It is interesting to notice, in particular, how Helen is enabled to process her own shame storm in a redemptive way precisely because of her robust theological perspective. Apart from the theological idea and heart conviction that, one day, far worse will be noted against us on the Day of Judgment, a shame storm would be utterly devastating. But actually, it sounds like “a retirement luncheon toast” in comparison; if you want to be afraid of your sins, consider a broader narrative!
Second, she also has the theological antidote of gratitude. That is amazing. How can one be grateful for such an awful, terrible, life-shaping experience? Yet, she sees that the work of redemption is more important than having a good reputation. By valuing her own holiness and journey with God above the dishonor of this world, she can see how the terrible and wrong things she experienced can, despite themselves, contribute to a higher good.
Third, she has the moral language to call evil what it is … evil. It is blunt, terrific condemnation of the horrors of a shame storm. We need this moral clarity so that we can be appalled by what we are being habituated into and yearn for a better and true means of discussion.
I’d love to hear from others on this important subject!