“There are three types of truth: your truth, my truth, and the truth.”
(Apologies for the large number of questions I pose in this piece.)
Ever since I read Clementine Ford’s piece on The Daily Life (cracking start to the year by the way) I’ve been pondering on this shaming business. For those of you who are into the whole brevity thing, the skinny of the piece is that it is a brief exploration of the Nice Guys of OKCupid tumblr that has recently been put out to pasture. She does a really good job of personifying these Nice Guys (as opposed to some commentators who like to view offensive men not as actually human beings with thoughts and emotions, but rather more akin to single-celled gametes blindly trying to bump uglies in a petrie dish), and it was that that especially got me thinking.
Not more than a week earlier I was reading a piece by the Slutocrat about another shaming site known as Potential Prostitutes. On this site you will see pictures and personal details of the “offenders”, women who are, or who are suspected of being, prostitutes. Potential Prostitutes seems to hold the view that selling your vagina is shocking and awful (although buying one doesn’t seem to rate on their amoral-o-meter, but hey) and if you do it, or are even accused of doing it, you deserve to be exposed.
Then there’s You Said It over at The Anti-Bogan, a blog dedicated to outing people who use social media to spew their racist and sexist bullshit, while also exposing the hypocrisy of facebook policy that allows it to continue. The Anti-Bogan often publishes pictures from the offender’s facebook profile, along with email addresses of their place of work, all in an effort to see the bigot (or “bogot” – a distinctly ‘Strayan variety – as they are known on the blog) get their justified comeuppance.
And who can forget 12 Year Old Slut Memes on facebook? Such a bastion of morality as it was, the page reminded us all that you shouldn’t be young and dress the way you have been socialised to. Don’t take cues from culture, kiddies, because if you do, you will get called a slut and have your picture plastered so 4,500 people can shake their heads at the state of the world these days.
Now if you’re like me, you will favour two of these sites, and oppose the other two. But why do I feel this way? Am I blessed with some sort of ethical omniscience that allows me to determine which actions and attitudes are inherently and objectively good? Does there reside in me (and maybe you too!) one of those aforementioned amoral-o-meters that tells me, categorically and with no correspondence entered into (as my mother would say), that a site like Nice Guys of OKCupid is fine, while one like Potential Prostitutes is far from it? Or rather, do I concur with The Anti-Bogan simply because it matches my ideological view of the world?
This is really a fundamental question of whether there exists an absolute truth – an objective reality. It is a complex and tricky topic to explore, and I’m not sure whether I will be able to do it any justice in this blog piece…but I’ll give it a bash.
One way to look at the issue of shaming, is that any example of privacy violation and non-consensual online ridicule is the same. Whether it’s a guy who feels they deserve sex in return for being nice, or it’s a gal who seeks attention by deep-throating penis shaped lolly-pops, once you use their image without their consent for your own amusement, you are committing an ethically wrong act. However, this is far too simple to deal with the complexities of life, focussing as it does on the act itself and ignoring any context.
I believe that bad acts can be justified given the proper context. Stealing a luxury item, or stealing for fun are definite no-nos. Yet stealing to eat because you are unable to afford any food seems perfectly reasonable by comparison. But that’s me. The things we do and how we justify them, are eternally linked to how we view the world, which is in turn linked to our experiences. In my reality, racism is incendiary and inciting of hatred. But if I were someone else, I might believe that scantily clad women were a sure path to the degradation and ultimate ruin of society. Is either belief, in an absolute and moral sense, “right”?
Our subjective beliefs, and those of the people we choose to have around us, often can give the false impression that we are on the side of objectivity; that what we believe is the true truth. Everyone we know thinks the same, so it must be true, right? No, not right. This does not stop us, however, feeling morally obligated and self-righteously justified to expose those who promote beliefs we view as being wrong, incendiary and hate-filled. It does not stop us getting on our high-horse to write blog pieces denouncing this person or that person as fundamentally wrong for believing what they do. To what, I wonder, do we owe such astute knowledge of moral exactitudes?
Whether or not you agree with the shaming tactics of The Anti-Bogan or Potential Prostitutes will depend upon your views and beliefs. I believe the creators of Potential Prostitutes are wrong because women should not be shamed and denigrated for doing something that is supported solely by the desires of men. To me, the men who use prostitutes are the more rightful targets of moral indignation. Now, I can argue this point until the cows come home, I can surround myself with like-minded people and point to evidence that supports what I believe, but that does not make it so.
I believe the creators of The Anti-Bogan are right in that people should be outed if they express hate-filled views and opinions. I believe that racism, sexism, and homophobia have no place in modern society. I believe these views cause violence and propagate unease, ultimately holding us back from achieving a great many things. But similarly, shouting this until the bovine returns will not make my views fact. This is because there are no ultimate truths with concern to ideologies, only opinions. The good folk who created the 12 Year Old Slut Memes page at facebook clearly believe that their actions are acceptable. I find them deplorable. Two opinions representing two subjective realities do not an objective whole make.
However, as a bit of a fan of utilitarian and pragmatic thinking, I do believe there are attitudes that are more conducive to the attainment of happiness and social cohesion. Despising different cultures and seeking their eradication is certainly a path that will fill one side with violent hate, the other with resentment, and both with loss. Whereas seeking to accept racial and cultural diversity is much more likely to result in the greatest good for the greatest number. Acknowledging this may make it possible for us to inch toward identifying a few moral truths.
At the same time, we must question the practical good that can come from publicly shaming someone. The Anti-Bogan believes that in exposing people they are shining a light on sociopathic views which will ultimately result in their re-evaluation and eradication. However, it seems to me that appearing on the blog often galvanises a person’s views and bonds them to others in solidarity, facing off against a common enemy. On a similar level, while Nice Guys of OKCupid ostensibly seeks to point out the hypocrisy and entitlement in many men’s thinking, the photos also offer an opportunity for women to guffaw at socially inept men who have perhaps been conditioned to expect the world to be a certain way.
Indeed, if this guy is open to ridicule because someone deems that he “doesn’t get it” – a purely subjective view – then this woman is also open to ridicule because she similarly misses the point. Except that both are engaging in behaviour or hold beliefs that are personal, that do not aggressively impact on anyone else, and which don’t lead to the eventual downfall of the human species. Ergo, no good can come from shaming either of them. Furthermore, when shaming does occur, be it for being a Nice Guy or a “slut”, not only will the impact on the people being shamed be comparable, but also the intentions of the person doing the shaming become clear:
To expose and ridicule those who do not share their subjective ideology or who fall outside of what is subjectively considered “acceptable”.
I don’t believe that there is a greater calling at work when someone submits content to a shaming website, aside from a sort of smug satisfaction that they’re doing good. Although I feel this smugness and hold a (possibly misguided) view that I am more enlightened than racists, I also realise that my support of The Anti-Bogan does not grant me actual righteousness. Rather, I support it because ridiculing stupid racists conforms with my ideology. But in so doing I must also accept that others may find ridiculing prostitutes supportive of their ideology. Unless I am supremely awesome (or arrogant), my worth is no greater than theirs. In understanding so, I must also recognise that just because we do not hold the same views does not make them wrong, or me right.
We must end all shaming which shows no positive outcomes. Or else we must embrace it all. Sitting on the fence is just going to give us piles.
And that’s what I think about that. Thanks for reading.