Book Review: So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed

John Ronson Photo Credit: Rachael Wright/Camera Press

John Ronson
Photo Credit: Rachael Wright/Camera Press

It’s all about psychological control.
– Dan O’Hara, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed

Jon Ronson was inspired to write a book about shame after he’d been cyberbullied on Twitter.  So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed chronicles notorious cases of modern shaming and examines the mob mentality which was resurrected by social media.  It is this month’s World’s Best Book Club (WBBC) selection.

Jonah Lehrer Photo Credit: Sam Comen

Jonah Lehrer in 2012
Photo Credit: Sam Comen

I really regret ever responding to your e-mail.
The shaming process is fucking brutal.
– Jonah Lehrer, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed

Michael Moynihan, an obscure freelance journalist with a 10-blog post gig from the Washington Post, was obsessed with a Bob Dylan quote in one of Jonah Lehrer’s works.  Mr. Lehrer hadn’t yet learned to ignore a bully’s bait.  By the time this cluster-fuck ended, Mr. Lehrer was out of a job, and Mr. Moynihan had made a name for himself.  Score one for David for taking out Goliath.

Mr. Lehrer protested that he didn’t belong in Mr. Ronson’s book, but Mr. Ronson was intent on protracting Mr. Lehrer’s shame, humiliation, and torture.  When a guy at a Radical Honesty weekend blasted, “YOU’RE AN ARROGANT CONDESCENDING BASTARD!” I found myself agreeing.  It seemed that Mr. Ronson took pleasure in the cruelty of the “21st century flogging” that Mr. Lehrer endured.

Tony Auth, The Philadelphia Inquirer

Tony Auth, The Philadelphia Inquirer

On the Internet we have power in situations
where we would otherwise be powerless.
– Jon Ronson, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed

Power reveals who we are.  This is as true of a Fortune 50 CEO as it is of an Internet troll:  “a lover of jubilant online chaos.”  Twitter wars erupt because trolls decide “who deserves obliteration.”  A mob mentality run amok.


One of the great mysteries of modern shamings ~
why are they so breathtakingly misogynistic.
Jon Ronson, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed

Seriously?  Shame is as old as Adam and Eve.  Men invented the ad hominem attack:

When someone can’t defend a criticism against them, they change the subject by attacking the criticizer.

It is a favorite courtroom trick:

You [people who hope to be expert witnesses] are a bone being dragged over by two dogs that want to win. And if you get between the lawyer and his goal, you’re going to get hurt. Appreciate what the lawyer is trying to do. The lawyer hopes to drag you down. He’ll call you incompetent, inexperienced. You might start to feel angry, upset. He will try and drag you outside your area of expertise, your circle of facts. How? How will he try to do this?

I have shared this quote because many of my readers ~ especially protective mothers ~ naively expect courtrooms to be fair places where justice is dispensed.  No.  Attorneys are essentially gladiators trained to destroy their opponents.  They thrive on conflict and don’t care if it costs you every dime you own and puts you deep in debt.


How could almost identical shamings
annihilate one man and
leave another without a scratch?
Jon Ronson, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed

Mr. Ronson’s own approach was to out-bully his Twitter opponents.  He bemoans that “we were creating a world where the smartest way to survive is to be bland.”  I would argue that we have created a culture where bullies are celebrated.  How can we expect to be treated with dignity and respect when we seize every opportunity to obliterate and denigrate someone else?

Mr. Ronson shared Max Mosley’s wisdom:

As soon as the victim steps out of the pact by refusing to feel ashamed, the whole thing crumbles.

Yes, there are times when we all behave inappropriately.  We need to learn from these humiliating experiences and move on:

We all carry around with us the flotsam and jetsam of perceived humiliations that actually mean nothing. We are a mass of vulnerabilities, and who knows what will trigger them?

We need to control our destinies or someone who knows our trigger points and hot buttons will.  This is why experts advise people to take control of the message.  And, we need to remember Mike Daisey’s wisdom:

An apology is supposed to be a communion ~ a coming together. For someone to make an apology, someone has to be listening. . .There’s a power exchange that happens. But they don’t want an apology. What they want is my destruction. . .for me to die.

When we find ourselves in this situation, it is important to remember that storms don’t last forever.  We need to find a way to weather their fury as best we can and move on.

Tyler Perry as Madea

Tyler Perry as Madea

You wouldn’t believe how much respect you get
when you have a gun pointed at some dude’s face.
– prison inmate, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed

Psychiatrist James Gilligan was quoted:

I have yet to see a serious act of violence that was not provoked by the experience of feeling shamed or humiliated, disrespected and ridiculed. As children, these [violent criminals] were shot, axed, scalded, beaten, strangled, tortured, drugged, starved, suffocated, set on fire, thrown out of the window, raped, or prostituted by mothers who were their pimps. For others, words alone shamed and rejected, insulted and humiliated, dishonored and disgraced, tore down their self-esteem, and murdered their soul. . .on a scale so extreme, so bizarre, and so frequent that one cannot fail to see that the men who occupy the extreme end of the continuum of violent behavior in adulthood occupied an equally extreme end of the continuum of violent child abuse earlier in life.

For men who have lived for a lifetime on a diet of contempt and disdain, the temptation to gain instant respect in this way can be worth far more than the cost of going to prison or even of dying.

This explains domestic violence, child abuse, and shooting rampages in a nutshell.  If we are going to end the violence, we need to learn how to treat each other with dignity and respect and how to forgive.

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