Anonymity of Social Media, Authentic Selfhood, Book Review, Created Together, Dehumanization, Jon Ronson, Labels, Mass Existence, Misunderstanding, Monica Lewinsky, Online Shaming, Patient Zero, Personhood, Publicly Shamed, Rampant Individualism, Reductionism, Risky Business, Self Hatred, Shaming, Social Media, Trinitarian Community, What does it mean to be a person?
Listening and reading Jon Ronson talk about shaming and modern dehumanization has resonated with my concern over our massive identity crisis.
It is as if Ronson has woken up in the middle of a tempest to take some responsibility for his own “butterfly effect” contributions to pushing the storm. It is, as he puts it himself, “like being in a car with failed brakes hurdling toward the cliff” where “we are often defined by our worst mistakes.”
There was a time when he saw “public ridicule as ‘the democratization of justice’ — but after writing his book on the topic, he’s changed his tune. He has taken a closer look at people who have had their reputations destroyed on social media, and how difficult it can be for them to recover… shaming has become ubiquitous and too often disproportionate, and that fear of being attacked has made us a more conservative, self-censoring society.”
My Writing: A Risk?
I am aware that I take my reputation into my hands every time I write something provocative; but will it one day be my life that I take into my hands? To write this blog about relationships, culture, and current events that does not follow what I call the dogmatic narrative of modernity, has become risky in this day of drive-by smear campaigns and the social media shamings. We live in times of political correctness gone amuck – when a mis-step, mis-speak, or a contrary point of view can likely destroy one’s reputation or career.
One comment to the interview with Ronson was this (RobbyCanuck):
“Shaming online is essentially the cowardly way to attack anyone because of the anonymity it provides. It is sad reflection on our society, making us a more mean spirited and spiteful society than ever before. Smart phones are destroying the substance of public social relationships because no one knows how to talk to anyone anymore.”
It is not that public shaming is bad because it is hurtful – public shaming is hurtful because it is dehumanizing – that is – it misunderstands and under-estimates the inherent worth of personhood. How can we expect anything else in a culture that has so quickly and profoundly changed the narrative of personhood to be this quasi-neo-evolutionary-sub-scientific chatter that reduces persons to labels, and evaluates worth by the metrics of utility or political correctness?
Consider the TED talk by former White House intern Monica Lewinsky that Ronson references in his interview. Her story was a “scandal brought to you by the digital revolution.. when the story broke in January 1998, it broke online; it was the first time the traditional news agencies were usurped by the internet for a major news story.” She claims to be “patient zero of losing a personal reputation on a global scale” in the digital age.
In an environment of Self-Hatred, there’s plenty to go around.
In contrast to modernity’s self-hatred, Alan Lewis writes passionately about the force of authentic personhood:
What the gospel does… is make possible the discovery of authentic selfhood, the living of truly fulfilled individual life which is distinct both form mass existence on the one hand, and on the other from rampant individualism with itself dehumanizes so many individuals and dispossess others…
It is central to personhood… that we are created not alone but together, in the image of the trinitarian community…
Perhaps it is easy to shame another in the anonymity of the social media-sphere, but I think that is too easy an answer. I could have chosen false identities to hide myself, but that would have been self contradictory. It is precisely because I know who I am to the One who made me for Himself that I am able to recognize my in-estimateable worth – to see this in another – and to call it out, as it were – for another to see this in themselves.
Thus, it is not an exercise in restraint to not shame another with whom I disagree; it is an exercise of love to decipher the enigma of our worth. It is the process of maturing personhood to be able to let others know this in themselves. It is the impulse of Christ’s Spirit who is continually lapping at the shore of our lives.
Welcome to the the New Year; welcome to more enigma than dogma!
Heather Holbrook said:
Excellent! This is definitely why I am being very careful about what I post. I know that some things I am working on will cause me to be “shamed.” At first I thought your post would be on giving labels like, “Autistic, Depressed,” and things like that. Those labels I have found to actually be helpful to the extent that they help a person understand more about who they are and then get the help the need to overcome their challenges. But the labels you are talking about are definitely no good!
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R.H. (Rusty) Foerger said:
I agree that there is something about being able to (finally) put a name to a condition – but this has a limited span of effectiveness. What I am consistently coming up against is the notion that a “label” is the definition of personhood. To be “depressed” for example, isn’t the same thing as being defined by it (this may be a problem with the language we use). More broadly, my series on “Trans-Identity” speaks to what I call our “massive identity crisis” – as a way to highlighting the confused age in which we live as we try to understand what it means to be a person. You might be interested in how I address this topic in: https://moreenigma.wordpress.com/2015/09/03/what-am-i-when-i-am-not-thinking/
Thanks so much for your comments; I have appreciated your courage with autism/depression and life!
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