Shame once functioned as a signal of moral wrongdoing, serving the betterment of society. Now, trial by social media has inspired a culture of false shame, fixated on individual’s blunders rather than fixing root causes.

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A much-underappreciated tool for social regulation. The devaluation of shame is in part due to the increase in the valuation of “public relations,” as a profession and as a tool for avoiding, denying, and shifting public shame. There’s a whole approach to mitigating one’s bad behavior that is all about blaming the victim, blaming society and blaming the accuser. When was the last time you heard someone say I’m sorry without some form of blame/shame shifting or the feeling that the shame/apology was being orchestrated? It’s rare and we’re worse off for it. Edit: Lots of interesting responses and I appreciate them for their frankness. Oddy, however, I was not referring to cancel culture or mob mentality but to the missing ingredient of “personal, individualized, internalized,” shame. What I think is missing is the idea that when you do something wrong, especially if it was purposeful or if you “should have known better,” our current culture of excuse-making is all about avoiding the sensation or shame or the negative consequences of being caught out. These days and especially for the well-to-do or for public figures (but now in a social-media age most everybody) the idea is to avoid responsibility (shame) and to use strategies and tactics (PR) to find something or someone else to explain your mistake rather than just saying earnestly, “What I did was stupid, I should have known better and I’m ashamed of my behavior/action/words…” Your politics or philosophies or position have nothing to do with this. The avoidance of shame isn’t a liberal or conservative action, people across the spectrum all do it. The problem IMO is, yes, our culture does too often “go for the jugular,” but that is in part because the perpetrators — those who should be ashamed — do so much to avoid that shame and so often seem to say, ‘It’s not my fault that I did this thing for which I should be ashamed, it’s because I got caught…and I got caught because you (whoever ‘you’ might be) were being nosy/puritanical/bossy/liberal/conservative/ etc.. I shouldn’t be ashamed…you should be ashamed.’ In the end that passing-the-buck leads to people wanting to hang those who should be ashamed, rather than accepting that the transgressor has taken the burden of shame and is asking “permission,” to move past it, which is quite often granted in society, families, companies, teams, religions, etc.


Slavoj Zizek collaborator John Millbank argues that historically in many societies, ‘doing good’ depended not only on individuals feeling their actions to be good, but also in observers perceiving their actions to be good. This was instrumental in the feedback loop that steadily ‘civilised’ societies. There are many examples in which such shaming was disproportionate, such as the loss of reputation resulting from a family’s loss of fortune in the Victorian era, which disregarded circumstance or misfortune. However as a social function, shame operated effectively. In this video, the panel address the transformation we are currently seeing in the use of shame in society. The relatively new phenomenon of trial by social media has created a globalised form of shaming that is problematic for many reasons, not least because, as Millbank points out, the resulting shame and response is ‘false’. It is not an attack of the root cause of an issue so much as a vitriolic attack of the individual whose deeds have exposed that issue to scrutiny.


The mob and mob justice has always existed. Cancel culture isn’t new, it’s just the social-media-enabled mob. I don’t know why so many people are claiming this is some new phenomenon.


Implying that the morals of that society were good to begin with? The role of shaming in my country, Ireland, was taken on by the catholic church and anyone who slightly deviated from their rather cruel, misogynistic, homophobic, bigoted viewpoint would be shamed by society. Now that we are moving away from being under the thumb of the catholic church people are less repressed and can express themselves and have basic human rights. The shame that the catholic church and conservative society places on people is not for the betterment of society, it is for the betterment of the power structures which repress us.


Honestly it is a form of bullying that people see as good. Lives have been ruined by simply calling out behavior with no context or purpose aside from getting likes/retweets.