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Tuesday, March 15, 2016

David Brooks, "The Shame Culture": Or Groupthink? Either Way, Count Me Out!

In an interesting New York Times op-ed entitled "The Shame Culture," David Brooks tells us of an essay in Christianity Today by Andy Crouch, in which, according to Brooks, Crouch argues:

"[T]he omnipresence of social media has created a new sort of shame culture. The world of Facebook, Instagram and the rest is a world of constant display and observation. The desire to be embraced and praised by the community is intense. People dread being exiled and condemned. Moral life is not built on the continuum of right and wrong; it’s built on the continuum of inclusion and exclusion."

Brooks goes on to say:

"[E]verybody is perpetually insecure in a moral system based on inclusion and exclusion. There are no permanent standards, just the shifting judgment of the crowd. It is a culture of oversensitivity, overreaction and frequent moral panics, during which everybody feels compelled to go along.

If we’re going to avoid a constant state of anxiety, people’s identities have to be based on standards of justice and virtue that are deeper and more permanent than the shifting fancy of the crowd. In an era of omnipresent social media, it’s probably doubly important to discover and name your own personal True North, vision of an ultimate good, which is worth defending even at the cost of unpopularity and exclusion."

All of which is why I maintain my Facebook account in a permanent state of suspended animation, available only for purposes of identification. Regarding "True North," if you visit my Facebook account (please don't), you will learn that I currently live in Greenland. However, I am now considering a move with my dogs to the North Pole and taking up residence in an igloo next to Santa's workshop.

But more to the point, these are indeed dark times, when Hillary can tell her apostles to rapturous applause that she will provide transcripts of her speeches to Wall Street investment houses only when everyone else does. And it is even more dismaying when Donald tells his legions of angry white men that if they hurt a protester, "I’ll defend you in court."

A "shame culture" or "groupthink"? According to social psychologist Irving Janis:

"The more amiability and esprit de corps there is among the members of a policy-making ingroup, the greater the danger that independent critical thinking will be replaced by groupthink, which is likely to result in irrational and dehumanizing actions directed against outgroups."

Either way, count me out!


  1. Brooks commenting on social media?I thought that he was describing high school.
    Throughout history,people remain the same-only technology changes.They are drawn to the spectacle of the Roman coliseum,the pre-war Nazi rallies,the Donald Trumps.
    The masses is asses.

  2. A Divine moral code goes a long way in anchoring people from falling prey to group-think. The negative side is that it can also make them exceedingly self-righteous if they have not mastered the humility part.