It can be tempting to shame those you disagree with, especially given that it seems to work.
You advertise your disdain for drug users, prostitutes, and sexual deviants. You slander anti-communists as selfish capitalist pigs who hate the poor. You mock your ideological foes on social media.
But shaming unto itself is never an argument—it is therefore not persuasive. It can only appear to change a person’s mind if the shaming tactic is coupled to an argument, even if only an implicit one.
Imagine publicly telling your drug-addicted sibling that he is an embarrassment to the family (effectiveness arguments aside, this is cruel, as we will see).
“I might’ve caused him to suffer, but it worked!” you retort. “After I called him out publicly, he chose to get sober.”
There are two possibilities.
One, your sibling could've been affected by an implicit argument in your shame tactic—i.e. that his current path in life contradicts his values and thwarts his pursuit of happiness. You may not have even intended to make such an argument, but your sibling could have interpreted your words as such. In that case, it was not shame that caused him to get clean, but rather an argument. To the extent that he felt shame in addition to hearing the argument, you’ve only caused unnecessary suffering—and that is cruelty.
The other possibility is that your sibling did not get clean for his own sake at all. He was not persuaded that doing so would be the right thing to do for himself. Rather, he sought sobriety to avoid further suffering caused by you. He has not learned that getting clean would help him find happiness. Rather, he has learned that getting clean would help him avoid your abuse. In this scenario, there is no reason why he would remain clean: if he found a way to do drugs whilst avoiding your public shaming, he’d do so. Getting clean was merely a means to avoid your abuse, not an attempt to resolve his addiction as an end in its own right.
So, even when shaming seems to work in the moment, it can never replace argument, persuasion, and learning.
On a societal level, every act of shaming serves to normalize shaming as a replacement for persuasion. You might find shaming my lifestyle a noble cause, but others will feel the same way about yours. Should shaming become pervasive, everyone would shame everyone else: no one is persuaded, no explicit arguments are made, and everyone suffers.
Shaming is bad strategy, too. As I said, every act of shaming normalizes the activity more broadly—not just for your allies, but for everyone. An ideological faction that you despise is bound to grow in prominence somewhere, sometime. Why give them another weapon?
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In the News
Eneasz Brodski starts a petition calling for government to ‘unplug’ Microsoft’s new AI technology: any new technology will have problems and cause unforeseen issues. And yes, in principle, it could be the cause of human extinction. But that is always the case. To solve all of these issues, human creativity is required to bring new knowledge to bear. Banning any technology only slows down the growth of human knowledge (plus, black markets will remain, but that’s another story).
“It's easy to be a pessimist. Optimism requires one to conjecture solutions to problems. The pessimist need only to point at problems (or future "problems") and see no readily existing solutions at hand.” - Arjun Khemani
Historian Thaddeus Russell interviews economist Per Bylund about how to think about the economy.
Very cool astrobiology periodic table by astrobiologist Charles Cockell.
What We’re Reading
General Relativity: The Theoretical Minimum, by Leonard Susskind & Andre Cabannes.
Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World, by Tom Holland.
The Ape that Understood the Universe: How the Mind and Culture Evolve, by Steve Stewart-Williams. Also see Logan’s book review.
From the Archives
What is Optimism? Knowledge, and Progress with Physicist David Deutsch, by Jesse Nichols.
Liberty Loves Reason: Darwin versus Political Correctness, by Ray Scott Percival.
Written by Logan Chipkin.
Edited by Arjun Khemani and Moritz Wallawitsch.
Image by Amaro Koberle.
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I have to disagree, and disagree specifically with the example you present. It is often the case that an addicted relative understands very well that their addiction is bad for them but since explanation in and by itself does not always provide strong permanent motivation to quit, they choose to continue indulging in doing drugs. Now, if there is constant fear for them of being exposed to the public judgment (given that they care at all which is also not always the case with addicts), that may add to the explanation-induced motivation and effectively stop them from sliding back into harmful behavior.