The Dirty Business of Public Shaming and Pushing Social Values

Ethan Hosts the Ed and Ethan Show

Ethan Hosts the Ed and Ethan Show

A functional portion of free market philosophy is considering the value of reputation.  Keeping a good reputation is one way that (in any society) individuals can give other individuals a commonly understood method of judging whether or not somebody is worth interacting with on a variety of levels.  As an example, someone who murders factory workers out of irrational fits of rage expresses much less value to prospective employees as opposed to someone who dotes upon factory workers with higher wages, health insurance supplements, pizza parties and so on.  In this rather illustrative scenario, the only way for a factory owner who is prone to murderous fits of rage to attract employees is to either pay such a premium that the employees would be willing to endure the abuse and risk of death this person would present or get their act together and stop murdering people to compensate for feelings of anger and frustration.  The reputation one gathers as a murderous person with a short fuse doesn’t stack up well against someone more rational and generous when trying to attract employees in a competitive labour market.

Reputation plays an important role here and displays rather clearly, the value in open dialogue.  How else are people to know of the murderous factory owner’s habits if they aren’t able to speak freely about it?  This works even today.  If you’re in a specialized field of work, consider if you’ve heard of the “best” firms to work for.  Consider also if you’ve heard horror stories about the worst firms to work with and think of the pay disparities between the two.  Heck, even if you’re an entry level unskilled worker, haven’t you heard of this judgmental thinking in respect to workplaces or how to achieve greater opportunity through the development of your skills?  It’s an interesting exercise in observational economic theory to consider how you value your labour and how you determine where you want to work.  It becomes even more interesting if you expand your view globally.

This doesn’t sound all that dirty though right?  This seems like a dispassionate argument for weighing risks and benefits in a situation with rather simple risk/value judgments at work so why have I headlined this article with such a characterization?  The answer rests in social values and how they’re used to consider potential interactions with other individuals.

Consider again the factory owner who is murderous and compare them to the other who is generous and considerate.  Knowing nothing else of these people, who would you prefer to stop on the sidewalk to ask them about the current time?  Who seems more approachable and who seems like they would be the most beneficial in carrying out your personal affairs with?

We are likely to find social behaviours that cause harm to be lacking in value when compared to other social behaviours that we disapprove of if we’re considering our own values in a logical fashion.  With the example of logical economic considerations at play, I was inspired to think of things more emotional rather recently and this is where we diverge slightly from what Ive outlines so far.

On Ed and Ethan Episode 75, (Broadcast date: Sept’ 8th, 2013) I opposed James E. Miller when he very considerately made time to come on the show to defend his position that slut shaming was productive and sensible.  After this episode aired, a fan of the show asked on facebook what we thought of The Dirty which is a website devoted to shaming people who are thought of as harmful to the community due to their sexual habits and, in some cases, predatory practices.  In short?  I don’t think it’s productive even though, many people on The Dirty who are being publicly shamed, stand accused of what some would readily interpret and rather harmful behaviour.

So let me step back and lay the groundwork for my opposition to publicly shaming those who display behaviour some find objectionable.  After all, didn’t I rather clearly state above that one factory worker should be shamed because of his harmful practices in the community?  Certainly I did but I’d like to explain why I consider that to be logical and why typically, slut shaming and “playah hatin'” (Did I spell that right?  I’m a pale white Jew.  I don’t know how this works!) is rather far off the mark.  Add to that, The Dirty specifically seems fundamentally flawed if an argument is being made in respect to its efficacy as a tool of social justice.

On the show, Ed and I can often be heard talking about polycentric law and divesting the state of its monopoly role as the arbiter of Justice.  It’s likely that when we’re talking about this, some people may be thinking of public shaming websites like The Dirty as a tool used by polycentric legal systems.  It well could be but I don’t think it could possibly be taken seriously as a be all and end all sort of system that is meant to establish a credible profile of someone’s reputation.

Nik Richie, owner of The Dirty

Nik Richie, owner of The Dirty

I think it’s important to consider why people are interested in The Dirty in the first place rather than focus on the aims of the website specifically.  In my view, people are likely interested in The Dirty specifically because it’s dramatic and appeals to a common desire for seeing controversy.  Much in the same way that a television reality show like Teen Mom appeals to people who have a desire to see people in difficult circumstances, I believe that The Dirty appeals to our want to see people in compromising positions.  In my mind, it comes across as a sort of lascivious enjoyment in the ability to relate to people who are suffering from problems that we would wish to avoid personally.

In short, when I see people enjoying content like this, I think it’s largely immature.  This is not to say I’m looking down on people who do enjoy it, (I have my own guilty and immature pleasures I assure you) but rather that I think it’s important to understand why this sort of content is more fluff than anything else and also, use it as fodder for encouraging others to wonder why such fluff does indeed seem impactful to us day to day.

ButtHurt_zps67f066bfI have a basic problem with The Dirty in the same manner that I have a problem with slut shaming.  While I don’t think there is anything specifically wrong in principle with a website like The Dirty or in calling out people for being promiscuous, I do think it reveals a very common inability to deal with things that are inconsequential.  In many cases, these things are consequential on a personal level for people not because they deprive anyone of life and property but rather because they offend our trained and poorly constructed cultural sensibilities in some way.  I’ve said many times on our show that being offended isn’t of consequence and really, should be considered of far lesser concern compared to that which has offended you.  In short, if you’re offended by someone being murdered, you being offended wasn’t really important.  Rather, it was the fact that someone was murdered because clearly, someone was denied their right to life and property.  While your offence could be called logical and even justified, it’s still not the area of focus if impact and import’ are being discussed.  If on the other hand you’re offended by someone walking naked down main street, you’re just being stuck up and prudish.  So someone is walking down the street nude.  If you can not demonstrate that this nude wanderer has somehow actively harmed someone (demonstrating impact and import’) then all you have to fall back on is that you’re offended which amounts to nothing more than whining about the world not looking just the way you want it.  Frankly, I can’t think of many more things that concern me less than that and if that offends you…well……

Reputation is important in most any society of course but perhaps equally so is a society’s ability to properly judge what is and what is not substantive in considering how we achieve our own goals.  That someone is out to murder you will indeed have an impact on your ability to seek out opportunities in the world to better your life but that someone has lots of sex with multiple people or that they enjoy whips and chains after dark?  Why on earth would you care?

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