Friday, March 27, 2015

Public shaming as blood sport has to stop - Monica Lewinsky

New Yorker   Monica Lewinsky and the Shame Game

A frightening, terrible thing about shame is how difficult it is to dispel. Guilt, at least, can be absolved through action. You apologize to the friend you gossiped about; you donate ten per cent of the $6.3 million cash bonus you got as the C.E.O. of Goldman Sachs to charity. Guilt is the discomfort that comes from recognizing that you’ve done something wrong, or failed to do something right. It’s an emotional accountability mechanism—the way that the self takes itself to task.

Shame, on the other hand, is a social feeling, born from a perception of other people’s disgust, a susceptibility to their contempt and derision. You see yourself from the point of view of your detractors; you pelt yourself with their revulsion, and as you do you begin, like Cassio, to lose track of the self altogether. Someone else’s narrow, stiffened vision of who you are replaces your own mottled, expansive one. As Lewinsky listened to the recordings of her phone calls, she tells us, she heard her voice as if it belonged to a different person: “My sometimes catty, sometimes churlish, sometimes silly self being cruel, unforgiving, uncouth.” It was “the worst version of myself, a self I didn’t even recognize.”

That feeling of estrangement from the true, variegated self is expressed time and time again in “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed,” a new book by the journalist Jon Ronson, to be published by Riverhead next week. Ronson interviewed scores of people who have been cut down by collective vilification in our post-Lewinsky, social-media-soaked age. He wants to trace the shame phenomenon to its root, and the taxonomy that he comes up with includes those who have been shamed for doing dumb things in the professional realm (Jonah Lehrer making up those Bob Dylan quotes; the former New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey creating a bogus official post for his secret male Israeli lover); those who have been shamed for doing dumb things in what they mistakenly considered to be the private realm (Justine Sacco, the P.R. person who sent out an unfortunate joke about AIDS in Africa to her two-hundred-odd Twitter followers before boarding a plane to Johannesburg, only to discover, when she landed, that her tweet had gone viral and that she had lost her job); those who have been shamed for doing things that seem perfectly acceptable by any common measure, public or private; and those who have been shamed for spuriously shaming others. (These last two are linked in a kind of reputation murder-suicide, in which a woman at a tech conference, overhearing a man making an anodyne joke to his friend, published his photo on her blog along with a post claiming that he had made her feel unsafe. He immediately lost his job; in what passes for virtual justice, she was then flooded with rape and death threats, and was fired in turn.) [...]


  1. Does she expect to escape the hall of shame?

  2. What she did is anathema to frum Jews, but not terribly unusual in secular society. In that context, there's no way she deserved what was done to her. I have no doubt that most if not all of those vilifying her had committed similar sins and perhaps worse ones. She was an easy target, and was sacrificed to draw attention away from the president, whose offense was far worse. She's absolutely correct that the internet has enabled a culture of public shaming, sometimes for the most trivial of offenses. Google "Justine Sacco" for an example.

  3. her issue is not that she doesn't deserve to be shamed - she clearly did something wrong. Her issues is the perverse joy people get out of shaming and trying to destroy another human being- the blood sport aspect- is what is being addressed.

  4. I agree that she is addressing the perversity of joyfully shaming another person, but I don't agree that she believes she deserved what happened to her. It's clear from what she says that she feels she did not deserve the destruction that was visited on her.

    In any case, I was responding not so much to her words as to the comment of RAM500, who apparently believes that she should never "escape the hall of shame."

  5. What she did was a youthful error in judgment and very, very common in the secular world.
    The wanton publicizing of it for ruthless political ends was far worse. Yes, she did not deserve to have her life ruined.
    What's more she herself was three times a victim: First sexually preyed upon by her HS drama teacher (who, though married, continued the relationship for years after her graduation); then by a predatory boss (the President, no less) who knew how to choose his prey and exploit a schoolgirl crush by an unstable, malleable girl; then by a whole team of Federal agents, no less, head among them the special prosecutor, who extorted her to act against her own interests. In short, her adult life up to age 24 was a string of male predation. She does not deserve anywhere near the level of judgment she receives even today, much less the tabloid slaughter that robbed her of a normal, decent life.

  6. Ms. Lewinsky is not merely a victim, she is a victimizer. She begins by speaking about guilt vs. shame. Purging guilt by apologizing and kinda sorta making amends. Nice words, all correct. But there's more to the story; she was not only publicly shamed, but did a criminal act which injured both an individual and society. Rather than making amends, she sees herself as a victim, and, by her public statements so far feels neither shame nor guilt for her action. What am I talking about?

    "...Monica Lewinsky committed perjury.

    Perjury is a crime and a very harmful crime. President Clinton’s personal attorney, Vernon Jordan, prepared a perjurious affidavit, which Clinton certainly knew to be false, and Monica Lewinsky signed that affidavit knowing it to be false. The purpose of that perjured affidavit was to deny justice to Paula Jones, who had filed a lawsuit accusing Clinton of sexually harassing her. Clinton’s harassment was a violation of Jones’s rights under the Civil Rights Act of 1991 and Jones, as the plaintiff, was entitled to true testimony from Lewinsky, who had been subpoenaed to testify in order to establish (as courts have determined harassment plaintiffs may do) that Clinton’s behavior toward Jones was part of a pattern of behavior by the defendant.

    Instead of providing truthful testimony, Monica Lewinsky lied.

    She perjured herself by signing that false affidavit and, in doing so, became part of a conspiracy to obstruct justice, to deny Paula Jones the remedy prescribed by law. Whatever we think about the concept of “sexual harassment” and the 1991 law that enabled Jones’s lawsuit, the law is the law. And both plaintiffs and defendants in lawsuits have a right to truthful testimony. Your sympathy for one of the parties in the suit cannot justify your lying under oath as a witness in an attempt to “help” them. Perjury is a crime, and conspiracy to obstruct justice is also a crime. It is possible that Monica Lewinsky did not understand the full legal consequences of her crimes, but (a) she damned sure knew she was lying, and (b) Bill Clinton is a graduate of Yale Law School, who was subsequently disbarred as a result of his own admitted perjury in the Jones v. Clinton case."

  7. If she committed a crime, and it can be proved, she should be prosecuted for it. It has nothing to do with whether she deserved to be publicly shamed and have her life destroyed for her liaison with the president.

  8. I applaud your posting the Monica video. I did the same in one of my comments on the Rabbi Maryles blog, but for me a layman with non standard views it was easy. Your posting this video takes some courage and a confidence in your values. Monica and Rav Sternbuch on one blog is the best.

  9. Not going to happen. Lewinsky, if anyone does, knows better than to go up against the Clinton machine. Besides, President Clinton admitted perjury and was disbarred. No prosecution. Lewinsky's perjury was in support of Clinton's and procured by his attorney who himself was a major player. There's no "if" in "if she committed a crime," but even if there's no statute of limitation, nothing more is going to happen to her. See "Clinton machine" above.

  10. Fine, so she cannot be prosecuted. And in my eyes, her initial perjury is in any case mitigated by her well-founded fear of the Clinton machine.

    Regardless, my point remains: Her perjury, such as it was, has no bearing on whether or not she deserved the feeding frenzy and destruction that she suffered.

  11. You mean like admitting that one made a mistake? They are on this video. Have you watched it? Apparently not.


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