Culture of humiliation

I have learned a lot recently about online humiliation.

Monica Lewinsky's Vanity Fair piece was very insightful. Indeed, if anyone would know about being the victim of online shaming, it would be her. Interestingly, she shares that a new stage of horror for her was achieved when she understood the impact his scandal had on her family.

In September of 2010, the culmination of these experiences began to snap into a broader context for me. A phone conversation with my mother shifted the lens through which I viewed my world. We were discussing the tragic death of Tyler Clementi. Tyler, you will recall, was an 18-year-old Rutgers freshman who was secretly streamed via Webcam kissing another man. Days later, after being derided and humiliated on social media, he committed suicide by jumping off the George Washington Bridge.

My mom wept. Sobbing, she kept repeating over and over, “How his parents must feel … his poor parents.”

It was an unbearably tragic event, and while hearing of it brought me to tears, too, I couldn’t quite grasp why my mom was so distraught. And then it dawned on me: she was reliving 1998, when she wouldn’t let me out of her sight. She was replaying those weeks when she stayed by my bed, night after night, because I, too, was suicidal. The shame, the scorn, and the fear that had been thrown at her daughter left her afraid that I would take my own life—a fear that I would be literally humiliated to death.

—Monica Lewinsky, Shame and Survival

Look at the year, 2010, that's twelve years after the facts. A lot of time for a mom to suffer with weakened trust in her daughter that she would take on life, with its good and bad days.

Something else that crossed my path is a post by Cathy O'Neil on her blog mathbabe, where she discusses some ways she has built a thick skin and maintains confidence in herself, even in the face of criticism that can get very personal.

But there’s one other thing I conclude when I piss people off: that I’m getting under their skin, which means what I’m saying is getting out there, to a wider audience than just people who already agree with me, and if that guy hates me then maybe 100 other people are listening and not quite hating me. They might even be agreeing with me. They might even be changing their minds about some things because of my arguments.

So, I realize this sounds twisted, but when people hate me, I feel like I must be doing something right.

One other thing I’ll say, which the article brings up. It is a luxury indeed to be a woman who can afford to be hated. I am not at risk, or at least I don’t feel at all at risk, when other people hate me. They are entitled to hate me, and I don’t need to bother myself about getting them to like me. It’s a deep and wonderful fact about our civilization that I can say that, and I am very glad to be living here and now, where I can be a provocative and opinionated intellectual woman.

—Cathy O'Neil

Again, the humiliation could get very deep in her psyche, but she makes her way of fighting it back very explicit. It's an utilitarian calculus, based on the scale of the positive impact she hopes to achieve versus the one negative comment she just had to face.

She ends the piece with this powerful line:

Fuck yes! Let’s do this, people! Let’s have ideas and argue about them and disagree! It’s what freedom is all about.