• The Shame Machine

  • Who Profits in the New Age of Humiliation
  • By: Cathy O'Neil
  • Narrated by: Cathy O'Neil
  • Length: 5 hrs and 54 mins
  • 4.4 out of 5 stars (57 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

NEW YORK TIMES EDITORS’ CHOICE • A clear-eyed warning about the increasingly destructive influence of America’s “shame industrial complex” in the age of social media and hyperpartisan politics—from the New York Times bestselling author of Weapons of Math Destruction

“O’Neil reminds us that we must resist the urge to judge, belittle, and oversimplify, and instead allow always for complexity and lead always with empathy.”—Dave Eggers, author of The Every

Shame is a powerful and sometimes useful tool: When we publicly shame corrupt politicians, abusive celebrities, or predatory corporations, we reinforce values of fairness and justice. But as Cathy O’Neil argues in this revelatory book, shaming has taken a new and dangerous turn. It is increasingly being weaponized—used as a way to shift responsibility for social problems from institutions to individuals. Shaming children for not being able to afford school lunches or adults for not being able to find work lets us off the hook as a society. After all, why pay higher taxes to fund programs for people who are fundamentally unworthy?

O’Neil explores the machinery behind all this shame, showing how governments, corporations, and the healthcare system capitalize on it. There are damning stories of rehab clinics, reentry programs, drug and diet companies, and social media platforms—all of which profit from “punching down” on the vulnerable. Woven throughout The Shame Machine is the story of O’Neil’s own struggle with body image and her recent weight-loss surgery, which awakened her to the systematic shaming of fat people seeking medical care.

With clarity and nuance, O’Neil dissects the relationship between shame and power. Whom does the system serve? Is it counter-productive to call out racists, misogynists, and vaccine skeptics? If so, when should someone be “canceled”? How do current incentive structures perpetuate the shaming cycle? And, most important, how can we all fight back?

©2022 Cathy O'Neil (P)2022 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

"Although [The Shame Machine] contains its fair share of pseudoscience-debunking, including an admirably lucid explanation of how diet programs massage statistics to artificially bolster their success rates, it is largely a work of social criticism . . . [that] keeps the human costs of the titular shame machine in clear view. . . . Frequently moving.”—The New Yorker

“A data-driven, anecdote-fueled narrative of the multitude of human experiences that are targets for ridicule and others’ reward. [O’Neil] vividly portrays the indignities of poverty, addiction, aging, dementia and other conditions we all may face but hope to avoid, and she shows how the pain experienced by people with these afflictions can be used for others’ financial and social profits.”The Washington Post

“As O’Neil argues, shame is a valuable lens through which to view our own actions and the systems we live under. Considering whether we are punching down on the vulnerable or up against an unfeeling industrial complex dressed up in fluffy corporate PR is a first step towards a healthier sort of shame.”—Financial Times

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  • wj
  • 05-19-22

A Bit Slanted, Marginally Pro-Bullying

I read *Weapons of Math Destruction* several years ago, so I had a feel for where the author lay on the political spectrum. And for the most part, this book was good with the examples and points being made especially around situations that are non-malleable or totally in control by an individual (e.g. weight, economic status, gender).

Where she gets a little derailed on the more social-related issues where the shaming is considered OK if you are "punching up" and in the majority view. The problem comes from the lack of nuance and subtlety in her examples, and that "punching up" ceases to be OK when the target is no longer an entity, but more a person.

Societal beliefs are fickle and changed and are somewhat controlled by a reinforcing algorithm (just like the suggested reading lists on this website). People follow the crowd based on whatever information they cherry picked from their already cherry picked surrounding and start shouting. There is no accounting in the book for that. The author pre-supposes the mob is right because the majority makes the rules. She does mention that society rules will change as a matter of time, but completely ignores the accountability of what these changed rules have done to the lives of the targets back when the mob thought they were in the right. See the events in Kenosha, WI (which she referred to in the book, but before the results were in),

In the book, she recommends "Super Sad True Love Story" as an example of social media shaming to an extreme and I'm about halfway through it. Possibly a better example would be the more easily approachable episode of The Orville - "Majority Rule".

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Good Book For Therapists

I enjoyed this book because it goes in depth with group-shaming, as in race, overweight people, drug addicts, etc. I am a therapist, and I will use this information to help my clients deal with their shame.