Culture, Uncategorized

So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed

So You've Been Publicly Shamed

So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, by Jon Ronson. Published in 2015. 304 pages.

Before I get into the meat of this book, I decided to share one of my pet peeves to set the tone (consider yourselves warned):

I have an intense aversion to reading a news story on a “reputable” news site (NYT, FOX, NBC, etc.) and seeing random tweets from various Twitter users interspersed throughout the story. I’m perpetually confused as to why a “reputable” news outlet would lend gravitas to the rantings of random Internet commentators -fame does not impute authority, for the record-  as if their opinions have any bearing on the validity of the story being reported. This peeve is the context from which I began reading and begin reviewing So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed.

I consider Twitter a cesspool and enemy of critical thought, so it came as no surprise to me that Jon Ronson was able to compose a 300-page book comprised in large part of interviews with people whose lives have been tortured or careers torpedoed solely because a Twitter mob -or other Internet denizens- decided that one ill-advised stroke of their keyboards was worthy of public, worldwide, electronic excoriation.

Although Ronson begins with public shaming instigated online, he doesn’t stay parked there. There is a chapter on the history of public shaming during our colonial period which was quite informative. He also interviewed former judge turned Texas Congressman Ted Poe, known as the King of Shame for incorporating public shaming in his sentencing of young or first time offenders.

After interviewing both Poe and one of the men he had sentence to public shaming, Ronson came away with a different perspective than he started with regarding Congressman Poe’s use of public shaming in sentencing. Not only did Poe not regret his tactics, but the young man interviewed deeply appreciated the sentence he received. It was apparent that situations where a judge in a courtroom is looking into the eye of a guilty perpetrator who had his day in court is vastly different from an anonymous Twitter mob condemning and causing irreparable harm to a stranger based on personal offense without due process.

The book also delved into industries and areas of life which depend largely on the ability of those in it to turn off that mechanism: the ability to feel ashamed in the first place. He interviewed people in the porn industry or who were involved with various alternative sexual lifestyles. Within the latter group were stories of people who had taken their own lives when news of their deviant proclivities were made public and diverged greatly from their public personas of trust.

Whether it was classes devoted to helping patients overcome secret shame or figuring out how a fortunate few weathered their public shamings relatively unscathed, there are few stones if any that Ronson left unturned. The most potent parts of the book for me however, were those specifically related to public shaming via the Internet, because this particular mechanism of public shaming is more sinister, shameful, and shameless than most. The author points out that:

“A life had been ruined. What was it for: just some social media drama? I think our natural disposition as humans is to plod along until we get old and stop. But with social media, we’ve created a stage for constant artificial high drama. Every day a new person emerges as a magnificent hero or a sickening villain. It’s all very sweeping, and not the way we actually are as people.”

Social media as community is an unnatural way of living, and so its denizens behave in  unnatural ways and react to things unnaturally. How many of us would publicly crucify a long term friend or even a loosely held acquaintance on the strength of one tactless joke or political opinion we find disagreeable? We wouldn’t, but:

“…when shamings are delivered like remotely administered drone strikes nobody needs to think about how ferocious our collective power might be.”

Feeling shame as a result of a guilty finding in a court of law or having violated the trust of an actual community of people with whom you interact day to day may be painful, but it’s born of real expectations of behavior based on reasonable measures of real accountability. Shame induced via an anonymous or semi-anonymous individual or group of individuals to whom the “shamee” has no direct connection and therefore no reasonable expectation of accountability is able to occur when the one being shamed is effectively stripped of their humanity by those feeding their emptiness through seeking to destroy another’s livelihoods and relationships.

When based on one moment of bad virtual judgment, divorced from any knowledge of the shamee’s character, it’s tantamount to doing the one thing most people in our culture would view as the cardinal sin if such action were taken against them: passing sweeping judgement and heaping condemnation on someone as a result of one mistake. Those who are able to do this and sleep at night are able to do so by engaging in an astonishing exercise in cognitive dissonance, in Ronson’s opinion:

“I suppose it’s no surprise that we feel the need to dehumanize the people we hurt—before, during, or after the hurting occurs. But it always comes as a surprise. In psychology it’s known as cognitive dissonance. It’s the idea that it feels stressful and painful for us to hold two contradictory ideas at the same time (like the idea that we’re kind people and the idea that we’ve just destroyed someone). And so to ease the pain we create illusory ways to justify our contradictory behavior.”

This is a book worth reading for anyone who spends any significant amount of time on social media. I don’t, but because I have online interaction with people I both agree and disagree with, it was good for me as well. It’s a good reminder to beware of attempts to shame anonymous individuals who are not accountable to me, my family or my church, even the most peripheral areas of my life.  That’s not what we are called to do. Live and let live is one of my life’s credos.

A few of the cases Ronson recounts are those you will easily recognize, but some aren’t. Reading about the horror and collateral damage others have suffered based on nothing more than a moment of bad judgment before pushing “post” (or even having a private joke overheard by an ill-humored SJW) is sobering reading. I used to not take the web all that seriously, but the need to exercise caution has never been more clear to me.  This one is worth a look.

4 out of 5 stars.

Content advisory: Many of the interviewees Ronson recounts use profanity in their conversations. There is also a chapter where he does research into the shamelessness of those who engage in the porn industry, so there is frank sex talk and recounting of some of the things he witnessed. None of it is offered in a titillating, gratuitous way, but it is included in the book in a matter of fact sort of way.

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Els' Rabbit Trails, family, homeschool, humor

El’s rabbit trails: Kombucha science

I have a very engaging book review in draft. It may even get up later this evening. Meanwhile, it’s been some time since we’ve hopped off on a rabbit trail and my kids and husband produced an entertaining one for me this morning. I figured in the spirit of getting ready for back to school, we’d talk some kombucha science.

A little over a year and a half ago, a friend of mine brought me a SCOBY. I was just getting into the kombucha craze (you know how we chicks love a good bandwagon), so she figured I would enjoy brewing my own. And I did. At first.

However no one else in our house liked the stuff, and the sight of the SCOBY jar was, to quote my husband, “like a science experiment gone bad”. I kept brewing it and kept the SCOBY alive. I even gave one or two away to fellow bandwagon chicks so they could start brewing their own. We talked kombucha. We compared flavors. It was a kombucha paradise.

After a while, as I am prone to do, I grew weary of my growing SCOBY hotel, and my man was not under any circumstances going to allow his kitchen to be overrun with jars of multiple SCOBYs. It was more than enough asking him to look at one or two. Couple that with my tendency to be ever on the lookout for a new bandwagon, and it wasn’t long before my poor SCOBYs went longer and longer periods without fresh tea being added.

Somewhere along the way my man and our two youngest kids developed a taste for the stuff, and my neglected SCOBYs found a savior in my husband’s willingness to make new brews of different flavors. This morning he and the younglings got busy bottling up different flavors, cutting off layers of SCOBY for the fall planting soil, and having an all around good time making several bottles of the stuff:

img_20180723_151314~21098936724..jpg
Individual flavors of kombucha on their second ferment.

Ever the teacher, it occurred to me that perhaps we should have an impromptu lesson on what a SCOBY is, fermentation, the meaning of symbiosis, and why things work together the way they do to produce the fizzy flavored teas that they enjoy so much.

“Way to suck the fun out, MOM!”

No, no one said that, but their faces said it all.

Christian, quotable literary quotes

Quotable Literary Quote: Joseph Alleine

Joseph Alleine was a Puritan pastor who lived from 1634 to 1668.

One of his most noted works is the book, A Sure Guide to Heaven. In it he had this to say about our temptation to trust in our own goodness:

When men trust in their own righteousness they do indeed reject Christ’s. Beloved, you had need be watchful on every hand, for not only your sins—but your duties may undo you. ~ ~ A Sure Guide to Heaven by Joseph Alleine

Just something I have been reminded of in recent days. His book, though weighty, challenging, and full of hard things, is worth a re-read.

Culture, family, nonfiction, politics

Folks, this ain’t normal.

folks tthis aint normal book
Folks, this ain’t normal: A farmer’s advice for happier hens, healthier people, and a better world, by Joel Salatin. Published in 2011. 384 pages.

When most modern Americans stop to consider a time when life resembled something normal (juxtaposed against the insanity of today), minds automatically drift toward the 1950s. Although the images that spring to mind are more Hollywood conjuring than anything a majority of Americans can actually remember, the amalgamated images of Ward and June Cleaver combined with Father Knows Best transport us to a time and place where life was simple, normal, and family-oriented.

In Folks This Ain’t Normal, however, Joel Salatin submits that the 1950s were in many ways the acceleration of our culture’s move away from normal life, speeding us like a locomotive to the dysfunction that we are grappling with in post modern America. While his book is without question and indictment of what has become of our food supply and ways of food production which harm our health and our planet, this book is about much more than that. Much the way Sex, Economy, Freedom and Community explores how the tentacles of abnormal economy infect our communities and most intimate relationships, Folks This Ain’t Normal offers something similar using our dysfunctional food system as its starting point.

No doubt you’re wondering how I concluded that the 1950s would be the point in time where the acceleration of abnormal living took root according to Mr. Salatin. I know I’d be wondering how such an idyllic period in American history could be viewed through such a lens. Salatin argues that the first supermarket appeared on the American landscape around 1946:

“The first supermarket supposedly appeared on the American landscape in 1946. That is not very long ago. Until then, where was all the food? Dear folks, the food was in homes, gardens, local fields, and forests. It was near kitchens, near tables, near bedsides. It was in the pantry, the cellar, the backyard.”

Using his timetable as a measuring stick, one can conclude that he sees the late 1940s into the 1950s as a watershed period in the way Americans acquired their food. Not everyone agrees with Salatin’s assertion (see here for one example), but whether or not you agree, one thing is for certain: the way we eat, live, work and play in 21st century is not normal when measured against any other time period in human history. Salatin argues quite convincingly that this abnormal way of life is more of regression than any evidence of human progress. That in fact, our approach to food and eating as described here:

“The average person is still under the aberrant delusion that food should be somebody else’s responsibility until I’m ready to eat it.”

Has put us all in a position where food security is an issue even for the most affluent among us. We are too detached from the reality of how to acquire and secure food for our families in the event of any hiccup in our current infrastructure:

“Food security is not in the supermarket. It’s not in the government. It’s not at the emergency services division. True food security is the historical normalcy of packing it in during the abundant times, building that in-house larder, and resting easy knowing that our little ones are not dependent on next week’s farmers’ market or the electronic cashiers at the supermarket.”

To some extent, Salatin oversimplifies his argument because there have always been and will always be people for whom hunger is a reality of life. What he gets correct, however, is that far too many of us are ignorant of the things that make for a normal life and healthy food untainted by substances harmful to the human body, produced in a sustainable way, and ingested in a form as close as possible to the way God made it.

While the food supply is the jumping off point for Salatin’s arguments, he hardly stops there. He points out how the proliferation of plastic is harming our environment, how our cultural aversion to hard work and addiction to screens is further disconnecting us from our humanity, the earth, and each other, and offers his opinion on things we can do on an individual level to change the way we live our lives.

“As a culture, we don’t cook at home. We don’t have a larder. We’re tuned in, plugged in, addicted to electronic gadgetry to the exclusion of a whippoorwill’s midsummer song or a herd of cows lying down contentedly on the leeward side of a slope, indicating a thunderstorm in the offing. Most modern Americans can’t conceive of a time without supermarkets, without refrigeration, stainless steel, plastic, bar codes, potato chips.”

Because Hearth prepared me in her review of this book, I knew the last two chapters of the book were a nice long political rant. It was unnecessary, detracting from the much more entertaining rant on food and post modern life that filled the book up until that point.

There is a lot of farm jargon in the book as well, but I always welcome the opportunity to learn as I read, so I didn’t mind it. If you’re not familiar with farm language, however, be prepared to do some googling for clarification.

One of the things I most appreciated about this book was the fact that this Christian, libertarian leaning author has a clear and unambiguous concern for the environment. People who oppose conservative/religious ideology often assume that those of us on this end of the spectrum don’t care about the environment. Nothing could be further from the truth. Refusing to worship creation doesn’t necessarily translate into having no concern for it.

Overall, this was worth a read, an encouraging reminder to me to embrace normalcy not only in my approach to food and eating, but every area of life.

3.5 out of 5 stars

American history, Culture, marriage and relationships, nonfiction, philosophy, politics

Sex, Economy, Freedom and Community

sex economy freedom community book

Sex, Economy, Freedom and Community: Eight Essays by Wendell Berry. Published in 1993. 208 pages.

I have always loved the commentary and writings of the insightful, prolific Wendell Berry. Reading his book, “Sex, Economy, Freedom, and Community”, it became clearer why I find his perspective so refreshing. How often have we heard the connection made between our culture’s predilection to specialization and compartmentalization with the destruction of the economy, sexuality, marriage, family, community, and the nation?

Very rarely I submit, although it’s a connection which is hard to deny upon serious observation and even harder to address as our culture succumbs more and more to the seduction of the “me first” mentality. A mentality which is largely driven by our increasing focus on individual rights at the expense of everything and every one, up to and including our own parents, our own children, and their children.

In the book’s title essay, Sex, Economy, Freedom, and Community Berry attempts to piece together how our movement away from interdependence and local community standards and toward a tendency to think globally has impacted our most intimate relationships, and how sexual love in general and marriage in particular have been irreparably damaged as a result:

There are two kinds of sexuality that correspond to the two kinds of economy. The sexuality of community life, whatever its vagaries, is centered on marriage, which joins two living souls as closely as, in this world, they can be joined. This joining of two who know, love, and trust one another brings them in the same breath into the freedom of sexual consent and into the fullest earthly realization of the image of God. From their joining, other living souls come into being, and with them great responsibilities that are unending, fearful, and joyful. The marriage of two lovers joins them to one another, to forebears, to descendants, to the community, to Heaven, and earth. It is the fundamental connection without which nothing holds, and trust is its necessity.

Our present sexual conduct, on the other hand, having “liberated” itself from the several trusts of community life, is public, like our present economy. It has forsaken trust, for it rests on the easy giving and breaking of promises. And having forsaken trust, it has predictably become political. “Losing kindness” as Lao-tzu said, they turn to justness.” (p. 134-135)

This is sadly correct. Sexual politics is a dominant and lucrative industry in America today. Divorce law, child support enforcement, abortion rights, contraceptive availability, health departments to deal with communicable diseases, sexual harassment, and on it goes. All of these institutions have grown in our misguided attempt to interject perfect justice and the semblance of safety into the necessarily murky business of male/female interpersonal relations. As a result, most women view every man as a potential aggressor and many men have grown to view every woman as a potential accuser of anything form date rape to dead beat fatherhood. This is supposed to liberating? Berry continues:

The difficulty is that marriage, family life, friendship, neighborhood, and other personal connections do not depend exclusively or even primarily on justice-though, of course, they all must try for it. They depend also on trust, patience, respect, mutual help, forgiveness-in other words, the practice of love, as opposed to the mere feeling of love.

As soon as the parties to a marriage or a friendship begin to require strict justice, then that marriage or friendship begins to be destroyed…(p.135)

And this of course, is exactly what has happened on a grand scale. As sexuality has become a commodity to be consumed (think of the quest for hotness at all costs), coupled with the right to do whatever feels good to us without regard for anyone else, and we have all but destroyed the beauty of sexual love and marriage. Sex sells. There is even a new term for the atmosphere in which people pair off: the sexual marketplace. No longer are the terms “husband” or “wife” adequate to describe the person we share our most intimate relations with. The term is now sexual “partners” and we gauge others’ sexual morality not by their fidelity in marriage but by their “partner count.” The language of intimacy is now the language of the marketplace.

People enter into marriage under the spell of sexual infatuation, failing to recognize that the practice of love, rather than the mere feeling of love, is what keeps a marriage alive, growing and fulfilling. The values of the marketplace, of quid pro quo, has usurped the place of love and forgiveness, reducing marriage to nothing more than an arrangement that lasts as long as our arbitrary and fickle senses of satisfaction are appeased.

Sadly, Berry notes, we have moved into a culture that can only be described as nihilist, one where most people are not interested in or able to be contented with this diffusion of love. They want to continue to have love focused myopically on them and them alone, as this is what society has groomed us to believe that marriage is all about.

A society whose members are concerned only with themselves, their individual needs, and are slaves to their passions with no regard for the greater good can be described no other way than nihilist. Churchgoing, “civic minded” nihilists, but nihilists nonetheless because a life spent pursuing personal pleasure-no matter what euphemisms we use to make it seem otherwise- is a useless, hopeless life. Our selfish greed can never be truly satisfied. Fulfillment is found through service and love executed in practice, not as the pursuit of sensations. And it doesn’t make a whole lot of difference if we call ourselves liberal or conservative, as Mr. Berry so eloquently states:

“The conventional public opposition of ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ is, here as elsewhere, perfectly useless. The ‘conservatives’ promote the family as a sort of public icon, but they will not promote the economic integrity of the household or the community, which are the mainstays of family life. Under the sponsorship of ‘conservative’ presidencies, the economy of the modern household, which once required the father to work away from home – a development that was bad enough – now requires the mother to work away from home, as well. And this development has the wholehearted endorsement of ‘liberals,’ who see the mother thus forced to spend her days away from her home and children as ‘liberated’ – though nobody has yet seen the fathers thus forced away as ‘liberated.’ Some feminists are thus in the curious position of opposing the mistreatment of women and yet advocating their participation in an economy in which everything is mistreated.”

Most contemporary rhetoric about service and duty is nothing more than the demagoguery of hypocrites, playing on our emotions for the sake of their own ambitions:

There is no denying, of course, that “community” ranks with “family,” “our land,” and “our beloved country” as an icon of the public vocabulary; everybody is for it, and this means nothing. p. 132

Now that we have stated the problem, the next step is to work toward a solution. The question then, is how do those of us who yearn for community, family, respect for the land and love for country achieve even a semblance of either while surrounded by a culture for whom these things are nothing more than feel good rhetoric at best and obstacles to personal desire and ambitions at worst?

Berry offers solutions, but they are hard solutions for a culture of people comfortably entrenched in an easy, resistance-free way of life. Here, he gets credit for trying.

5 out of 5 stars.

I originally wrote this read and reviewed this book in 2012, but it seems more relevant today than it did even when I first read it, so I’m featuring it here. Reviews for more recently read books are in draft and forth coming.

nonfiction, parenting, philosophy

Children Learn What They Live

by Children Learn What They Live by [Harris, Rachel, Nolte, Dorothy Law]

Children Learn What They Live: Parenting to Inspire Values, by Dorothy Law Nolte and Rachel Harris. Paperback edition published n 1998. 224 pages.

I picked this book from one of the myriad circles I travel where homeschooling families we know bring their extra books to give away and make space for yet more books. It looked intriguing to me, so I picked it up. At the time, I didn’t realize that the book was based on a relatively well regarded poem of the same title by Dr. Dorothy Law Nolte:

If children live with criticism, they learn to condemn.
If children live with hostility, they learn to fight.
If children live with fear they learn to be apprehensive.
If children live with pity, they learn to feel sorry for themselves.
If children live with ridicule, they learn to feel shy.
If children live with jealousy, they learn to feel envy.
If children live with shame, they learn to feel guilty.
If children live with encouragement, they learn confidence.
If children live with tolerance, they learn patience.
If children live with praise, they learn appreciation.
If children live with acceptance, they learn to love.
If children live with approval, they learn to like themselves.
If children live with recognition, they learn it is good to have a goal.
If children live with sharing, they learn generosity.
If children live with honesty, they learn truthfulness.
If children live with fairness, they learn justice.
If children live with kindness and consideration, they learn respect.
If children live with security, they learn to have faith in themselves and in those about them.
If children live with friendliness, they learn the world is a nice place in which to live.

 

The chapters in the book are divided to correspond with each of the virtues as outlined in the poem. When I started reading this, I found a lot of encouragement and opportunities for parental introspection.  Any of us would be hard pressed to deny that the values extolled in the poem are  worthy of emulation and instilling into our children.

However, as I continued to read, I found my discomfort with the tone of the book gradually increasing. I initially chalked it up to my own sense of shame as the realization that my report card, as measured by this poetic rubric -particularly weighed against the examples and stories given in the book to illustrate them-  nets me a solid ‘C’ as a mother. Even making concessions for my inadequacies,  there was something about the book I couldn’t quite put my finger on until I could, and it was this: The ideals are presented in ways which negate the foundational truths of the Christian faith to which I adhere.

For instance, there was no allowance given to the reality that often we should feel shame for our actions  and that we should see the connections between our actions and what they tell us about who we are as human  beings, which can lead us to understand our need for God. Our children need to take this journey as well. That we should be transmitting this truth to our children in ways that which don’t do unnecessary damage is worthy of emphasis. However, this book seemed to imply that we aren’t to impart this truth at all; that shame in itself is inherently damaging. I don’t ascribe to that assertion.

As recognition of my issues with the book took shape, I was able to read it with more of an open mind because I understood that rather than presenting eternal truths, it is presenting ideals in the light psychological and cultural “truth”. Good values, but values which assume inherent human goodness which I reject. More importantly, raising children in this way to the exclusion of any exposure to the reality of human nature in a fallen world sets them up for failure.

We should praise our children when they do well, but Dr. Nolte offers no allowance for the reality that sometimes proper guidance insists that we offer our children constructive criticism. The vagueness in the examples of guidance towards children who have done a disobedient or dishonorable thing seemed to insist that we not make children feel bad, even when they should. The massive fog of entitlement that seems to have swept over and infected every generation from my own (GenX) forward is evidence enough to me that the self-esteem movement has failed. We do them no favors when we shield children from their need for forgiveness and grace.

Lest I am beginning to sound as if I hated the book, I didn’t. I learned some things. Things that I, even after 24 years of parenting, was thankful to be reintroduced to because I can be an impatient mother. The virtues are good ones, and we should be offering our children quadruple the grace as opposed to guilt, if only because we are keenly aware of our own need for grace.

The problem emerges when we uncouple the implantation of these values from transcendent truth, which is exactly what this book attempts to do. Morality without a tether is soon severed in pursuit of what a person thinks they “deserve” when they’ve been trained that they are wonderful, fabulous and deserving of only good things simply because they breathe.

 

3 out of 5 stars.

 

joys of reading, philosophy

An Experiment in Criticism by C. S. Lewis

Because this post interconnects very closely with my most recent post on the different approaches readers can take when sitting down with a book, I’m sharing it here.

Lewis’ depth of thought certainly gives me, as an avid reader, something to think about. For instance, the notion that it is possible to sit with a book and get no more out of it than one would a half hour sitcom was one image which sprang to my mind.

The question becomes: Is there ever a time when reading is suitable for that?