I read an op/ed today from Norman Lear about shaming Brian Williams. Lear's point is that we've shamed Williams long enough and that it is time to forgive and move on.
If Brian Williams committed suicide tomorrow would we have a national conversation about bullying? How should we think about shaming Brian Williams?
Here are some of the conventional thoughts off the top of my head:
- It comes with the territory, the $10 million paycheck. Public figures should expect public humiliation. You sign up for it when you become a public figure. I usually see this argument applied to tragic pop stars Michael Jackson, Linday Lohan or Brittany Spears.
- Bullying is wrong so don't do it. Are we bullying Brian Williams to resign?
- It's just a joke.
- It is the punishment. I've seen this argument with folks like Anthony Weiner who texted a picture of his package to young girls. I doubt if Norman Lear would call for the end of Anthony Weiner or Bill Cosby jokes.
"There is no such thing as bad taste, just taste and no taste." - Tiffany
"There is no such thing as thin skinned, just skin and no skin." - Mybrid
Yesterday I posited that the golden rule is evil because it oppresses people different from ourselves. That would certainly be the case here if I were the human nature standard for bullying. You can't bully me. Not with just shame anyway. If I were the standard then there is no holds bar. No amount of shaming is too much. Jokes, bullying, doesn't matter. Why? Firstly it is who I am but also I was raised that sticks and stones will break my bones but names will never hurt me. Where I grew up unmerited and unwarranted ridicule and mocking is used to toughen children up and also in adulthood as banter between men. Man talk. You're so ugly if I had a dog with a face like yours I'd shave its butt and make it walk backwards. Relentless, unmitigated, unwarranted shaming all the time. So if I were the standard using golden rule and since shaming me doesn't bother me then shame away with total impunity., Done and done.
But that would be immoral to use my own nature to judge everyone. If my human nature were set as the shaming standard then suicides would go up, bullying would go up and oppression would increase. That's evil. That is why the golden rule is evil. We cannot just use our own nature.
The information rule says to treat people as they are, not as you are.
Ok, now what? Given the information rule should we shame Brian Williams?
- What do we know about Brian Williams and shame? I don't know anything. I don't know if Brian has been even asked how he feels or if he has made a statement.
- Am I shaming Brian Williams? I say that I'm not. The jokes are between me and my friends. If Brian Williams had a Facebook page and I went to his site and posted my humor then I'd be shaming Brian Williams. I would never do that. Why? Because I don't know Brian Williams and how shaming would affect him.
- Is public comedy shaming? This is where I think Norman Lear was pointing his criticism at mostly. Are the late night comedians bullying Brian Williams by making jokes? For example, I heard a joke about a historical bit of news and the punch line was, "and we know this because Brian Williams reported on this back in 1562." Should we stop with the jokes?
- Public shaming is a deterrent the same way a penalty of jail is a deterrent. One of the effects of shaming Brian Williams is that it puts all news anchors on notice, now and the future. Lie and you will be shamed.
- Shaming is a powerful human nature tool that should not just be dismissed because a few people have little or no tolerance.
- Ask Brian Williams
- Constantly weigh the cost and benefits to Brian and the public.
The information age relative morality brings up two important questions:
- Should we be ultra-conservative in lieu of any information being made available? In this case encourage no public shaming ever unless the recipient agrees to it.
- Where do we get our information?
But, today we don't have the DCOTM or the DOL. What to do? The answer is less than satisfactory, similar to alcohol in public where we choose to expose us all to risk but we still demand it. Comedy is to society like alcohol is to society in my view. Yes, comedy with its public humiliation hurts people just like public alcohol, just a different manner. And just like with alcohol I believe we will want and demand comedy even though public shaming can have life threatening effects on the most sensitive among us.
Having said we need to accept public shaming, is universally just accepting public alcohol or public comedy the best we can do morally? No. For example even today we could start up a public registry of alcohol offenders the same as with child molester offenders. We could use this registry to restrict the movements of alcohol offenders in a similar fashion. Why don't we? We should. If someone has a known alcohol problem we should morally and legally prohibit them from entering public establishments that serve alcohol. Why not? It is the best for them and for us.
Today we don't have the DCOTM or the DOL that I'm proposing. We don't even have a national registry of alcohol offenders. What to do? Well, we do the ugly thing and hash it out in the public square. We do what Norman Lear did and when we think things go to far then we speak out so others can decide. If we know first-hand Brian Williams has mental health problems we let people know. What we don't do is legislate dynamic moral boundaries to the most conservative and hence most prohibitive behavior. This will fail just like alcohol prohibition did. This will chafe our freedom like prohibition did.
So, we do the best we can with public shaming; with the most compassion we can muster to accept the risks to ourselves and others just like with public alcohol. We accept and acknowledge the risks.
But, I'm now arguing we do more. I'm now arguing we move to embrace the information rule and move away from the golden rule where we begin to treat people as they are, not as we are. We begin to publish information about everyone publicly so we know how to morally treat each other when it comes to shaming, alcohol, gender and all public life impacting values.
Thrilling! I find it thrilling that we are looking to advance or morality to the next era of dependency, together we stand and together we fall.
The future is coming!
Well come! and well met!