Donald Trump, the power-hungry psychopath he is, was a master at public shaming. His supporters are like a cult who are extremely skilled at public shaming. Honestly, the most hardcore Hillary and even Bernie supporters were very skilled at leveraging public shaming.
Here’s the thing: the moment you try to ostracize someone, you are setting yourself up for failure in terms of trying to successfully convince someone to change their mind. Causing them to hold their own opinions closer to their chest, to their sense of identity.
This is why once my candidate lost (Bernie), I couldn’t stand Facebook during the heat of the general election. I get it. The stakes were unbelievably high for some people (for instance, Muslims, women, and Hispanics; I would argue white working class too). It is just so hard to not be judgmental in general: it takes immense emotional intelligence, and it is mentally exhausting to exert the self control and restraint necessary to remove the undercurrent of judgment.
It’s just all too often, I found myself in a classic situation: “You’re either for us or you’re against us.”
The moment someone expressed that thought, I was immediately “I’m team noping out of here and not engaging.”
Public shaming and judgment are things that make it an unsafe zone of discussion. You cannot contribute without flying off the rail because people are relentlessly attacking you as a person. And productive conversation just completely shuts down.
Honestly, the way the Democrats called for “unity” made things worse. The echo chambers where I can be myself, r/SandersForPresident, got shut down even though there were hundreds of thousands still willing to participate in that safe zone for us Bernie or Bust political refugees.
I loved Black Mirror for this reason because public shaming is one of its biggest and most consistent themes. How are you supposed to feel in White Bear when people are publicly shaming someone who aided and abetted a high-profile murder? Can you conclude on your own that you are actually genuinely sorry for them despite the fact that the victim of this public shaming made a huge mistake?
I also loved So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson and its frank discussion on what happens when you get publicly shamed. Honestly, Monica Lewinsky was arguably patient zero of what happens when the information age, social media, the ability for an idea to go viral, is so much faster than before.
The ironic part was that Bill Clinton, despite going through the impeachment hearings, came out of the entire thing extremely liked because the Republicans were behaving like toddlers.
But what happened to Monica Lewinsky was different. As often happens in a misogynistic society especially with slut shaming, the hate piled onto her was visceral and nasty. She had an excellent support system through her family, but even then she experienced thoughts of suicide.
And that is a common thread when people face an intense moment of public shaming: it’s not pretty. It is absolutely awful for your emotional health.
But even as Monica Lewinsky became comfortable with her sense of self and felt empowered to talk about her experience, few people actively thought “man, how’s Monica Lewinsky doing? I really hope she is alright now, we were incredibly shitty and petty to her.”
And I’m glad she has a personal peace, and she delivered a powerful TED talk about her experience. And I just saw how even though the YouTube comments were disabled (smart move!), the ratio of likes to dislikes was like 90% to 10%, when just about any other TED video had like 99% likes to 1% dislikes.
Even after all these years, in 2015 no less, it was just like a compulsive addiction to slut shame her and to just judge her. I continue to feel so sorry for her for all that visceral hate.
But my sadness for her experience did wonders for my capacity for empathy. And that’s where I urge people to stop engaging in behaviors that publicly shame. Stop judging. Be a little more understanding and non-judgmental.
Because until that happens, we will continue to see increased polarization and just a complete inability to govern like adults.