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Shaming & Shunning: The People Who Do It, & Its Likely Effects (Part I)

Shaming & Shunning: The People Who Do It, & Its Likely Effects (Part I), by Michael Rectenwald

I can tell you a little about shaming and shunning -- what types of people initiate it, the way it builds, and how it is maintained. I can also speak to the kinds of responses the shamed and shunned are liable to take in response. The effects of shaming and shunning are indeed variable, but some mass responses are predictable. 

In my case, I gave an interview with the Washington Square News, NYU's student newspaper; one particular "colleague" of mine found my views intolerable. She railed and wrote a social-justice-jargon-laden response, replete with the plug-n-play rhetoric so rife in social justice circles, including "gas-lighting" and other nonsensical Legos-like pre-fabricated phraseology. You can find this phraseology easily on the web; no thought is required to construct a social-justice-inflected manifesto or argument as the language pieces stand ready-made for easy assembly, much like IKEA furniture. (No disrespect to IKEA furniture or its buyers is intended; I own some myself.)

She then apparently imposed on the other members of the committee on which she "served," "The Liberal Studies 'Diversity, Equity and Inclusion' Working Group" -- which I have since dubbed, with the help of some press and interviewers, "The Illiberal Studies Conformity, Inequity and Exclusion Working Group." They demand conformity (or at least obeisance) to a particular and peculiar ideology, treat those who do not conform to it as moral inferiors, and seek to have the non-conformists excluded from the university.

She rallied the committee members and induced them to sign onto her screed. Thus, she managed to have an official Liberal Studies Program (and thus NYU) committee condemn me. This set the stage for an all-out, collective shunning by my faculty "colleagues" in Liberal Studies at NYU. (See my reply to this open letter, with a link to it, here.) 

The pattern is clear: led by a religious zealot or two, shunning begins with the zealot's finger-pointing and shaming of the soon-to-be-outcast individual. It relies on a mob mentality and the induction of the desired behavior toward the accused of herd-compliance and mimicry. The followers, some true believers, others merely cowards, soon fall in line. As word spreads through the community, it quickly reaches a critical mass, and thus an entire group (in this case, one of supposed "intellectuals," "independent thinkers", and "individuals" armed with mob-resistant educations) acts as one, a herd in motion, and thus treatment of a person as if they were the equivalent of a moral leper is attained.

herd mentality

Members of the Jehovah's Witnesses could not have been more compliant than these supposed independent thinkers in their shunning routines.


* * *

I know exactly who initiated the shunning in my own case, as well as her underlying motivations. This is someone who, as a reader at a supposed poetry and short fiction performance, instead used the opportunity to deliver a series of vitriolic emails that she had sent to the curators of a film series about their supposed "racism" -- an obscure, recognizable-to-social-justice-zealot-only kind of "racism," akin to a "micro-aggression," but even more incoherent and imperceptible to all but the most hypersensitive, insult-seeking persons alive.

After getting past my disappointment that she would read polemical emails rather than literature, I tried to give her my full attention and to suspend skepticism to a degree -- to dispose of doubt and thus to give her the benefit of its lack. Yet, one strained to follow her "reasoning," although the underlying ethos seemed to be clear. She had a predilection to be offended and would stop at nothing in her pursuit to find offenses and offenders. The curators had sent perfectly reasonable responses and apologies (she read these aloud as well), but clearly nothing would ever satisfy her unquenchable thirst for "justice," her demand to be vindicated, her overweening desire to express herself through self-righteous indignation.

I realized then and there that this person, the reader of these emails, was someone utterly consumed with rage, that her entire life revolved around demanding recognition of/for her righteousness. I remarked to myself that this was an eternally unhappy person and that I should stay clear of her, because she is likely to be dangerous. My premonition could not have been more spot on.

To be continued...

Michael Rectenwald is a Professor of Liberal Studies at New York University and author of seven books, including Nineteenth-Century British Secularism: Science, Religion and Literature (2016), Academic Writing, Real World Topics (2015), and Global Secularisms in A Post-Secular Age (2015). A prominent spokesperson for academic freedom and free speech, he has published widely and has appeared in numerous national and international media venues regarding politically correct authoritarianism and social justice ideology. He is currently working on a memoir tracing his encounters with the postmodernist theoretical precursors of social justice ideology. Follow him on Twitter @antipcnyuprof.

Copyright 2017, Michael Rectenwald and CLG News, Any reproduction of this essay without permission is prohibited by law.