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Western society is built on stigma Shame can protect us from self-destruction

The Whale is not "fat-phobic". The Whale/A24


February 7, 2023   9 mins

The backlash against The Whale seems to have taken Darren Aronofsky, its director, by surprise. The film concerns a gay online English instructor named Charlie who is dying from congestive heart failure, an ailment hardly unrelated to his weight of 600 pounds. Brendan Fraser’s remarkably convincing fat suit has aggrieved fat activists, presumably because all those 600-pound out-of-work actors should have been approached for the part first. (Aronofsky did indeed make a stab at finding an actor who wouldn’t have required such elaborate makeup, but he soon gave up and decided, like an actual film director, to pick the candidate who could best perform the role.) The film has also been decried as “fat-phobic”, as it portrays the experience of weighing about as much as a Mini Cooper as disagreeable. Aronofsky is dismayed, for he created this work in a spirit of intense sympathy, by which his detractors appear unmoved.

I was moved. By the end, I teared up, though I couldn’t discern whether my sorrow was solely a tribute to the artistry of the film. My older brother also staggered around with the help of canes and a walker. My brother also suffered from congestive heart failure. In 2009, my brother also died from the medical complications of morbid obesity. To say that I likewise approach this subject matter with intense sympathy is an understatement.

Still, I could have warned Aronofsky that he’d get stick. I channelled the loss of a sibling I loved and admired into my novel Big Brother, which similarly riled the “fat acceptance movement”. (Predictably, none of my aggrieved correspondents read the book.) No amount of sympathy cuts it with these people. I did not have the qualifications to address this topic. I wasn’t fat.

For what it’s worth, my own minor criticism of the film is stylistic. It’s adapted from the eponymous play by Samuel D. Hunter, who also wrote the screenplay. Occasionally, stilted dialogue and stagey acting keep one foot in the theatre. Otherwise, scenes where Charlie jerks off to gay porn while having a heart attack, or joylessly crams his mouth with doubled slices of pizza topped with ranch dressing, do entail an element of spectacle and voyeurism. But all film viewers are voyeurs, and these scenes are supposed to be painful. Charlie is sad, and his confined, shame-drenched life is meant to make us sad, too. That is the naysayers’ real primary objection: Charlie’s weight is tragic. Charlie’s weight is bad.

Stigma has been on the way out for a while. In the early 20th century, divorce was at last a legal option. But as novels such as Edith Wharton’s Age of Innocence demonstrate, that didn’t make the dissolution of a marriage acceptable in the drawing room. Divorce was a scandal. Even as breaking one’s solemn vows at the altar grew more common, into the mid-Sixties the iconic female “divorcee” was a wanton loose cannon often preying on the happy marriage. Come to think of it, we seldom use the word “divorcee” anymore, since an identifier is pretty useless when it applies to nearly everyone you know. Nowadays, having been divorced multiple times barely raises an eyebrow.

But this is not the most momentous eradication of stigma during my lifetime. Facilitated by the Pill, that would be the abruptly permissive attitude towards sex outside marriage — although (lucky me) I had morally conservative parents who exposed me to the scathing repudiation and hysterical disgust to which earlier “fallen women” were subject. When I announced that I planned to live with my boyfriend at 18, my mother screeched that I was a “harlot” and a “kept woman” whose “shacking up” would ruin me for the purity of Christian marriage. (Both my parents claimed to be virgins before they wed, and I don’t even think they were lying.)

Spitting parental disavowal didn’t stop me from having a good time in my young adulthood, but it did give me a taste of stigma at its most effective; in my mother, my transgression triggered a visceral revulsion that she couldn’t control. Yet these days the only debate is whether to have sex on a first date, if we bother with dates.

Once unmarried sex became no big deal, the “out-of-wedlock pregnancy” followed suit. Presently, single parenthood can prove an economic challenge, and that’s about it. Yet not that long ago unmarried pregnancy was such a social horror that young women rushed to marry men they didn’t love or sometimes committed suicide. One of my mother’s college classmates starved herself for nine months to conceal her disgrace.

Homosexuality was next, and to be fair the exoneration of same-sex attraction (which, though she later pretended otherwise, my mother also found revolting) was a long slog. But now the stigma attached to same-sex relationships has so evaporated that being gay or lesbian isn’t even interesting anymore. As for cross-dressing, once a deep dark secret hidden literally in the closet, it is now so reputable that drag queens are reading stories to children in public libraries, and the furtive, old-school habit of struggling into your wife’s frock while she was out shopping seems to have been swallowed by the transgender movement. All that time you weren’t excited by dressing as a woman. You were a woman.

The rehabilitation of masturbation may still have a way to go, though, especially for older generations, since post-hoc mortification and an urge to concealment are instilled so early and run so deep. Yet masturbation must be the most ridiculous of no-nos. This free, universally available entertainment has no dire social consequences. The killjoy demonisation of harmless self-stimulation springs from a puritanical discomfort with sexual pleasure.

On balance, all these historically recent permissions probably make life better. Men and women aren’t stuck married to spouses they detest until death, mercifully, parts them. Having been around the sexual block meant that when I hooked up with my husband, I knew we were a good fit. I’m glad homosexuality is boring now, so gay friends and I can talk about something else. If I still feel a residual sheepishness after getting off in private, at least I know, abstractly, that I shouldn’t feel sheepish.

But even the hunky-dory-ness of divorce and casual sex is a mixed bag. Marriage is not as meaningful; both parties know they can always get out of it. If I’m relieved divorce is possible, I’m also relieved my own parents didn’t get one; the cost of divorce for children is well known. And thanks to what we used to call promiscuity, sex is less meaningful as well. The much-lauded sexual revolution has produced more kids with only one parent to turn to, more children in care, and more venereal disease.

My point being that stigma isn’t always bad. It can attach to particular conduct for good reason. Collective disapproval is a powerful tool for encouraging behaviour that’s in the collective interest. More recent campaigns to remove the stigma clinging to overtly destructive conduct are therefore questionable. That includes the crusade to embrace “fat pride”, which wages a two-pronged war on conventional assumptions about both aesthetics and health.

On the aesthetic front, alas, what qualifies as attractive cannot be imposed by cultural fiat. No number of Dove models spilling from their underwear in Tube adverts can make riders on the Circle Line yearn to take them to bed. Standards of beauty are stubborn; we don’t find certain bodies beautiful because we ought to. On the health front, advocates for “people living with obesity” — an expression that suggests they’re not overweight but have simply taken in a flat mate — like to claim that one can be “healthy at any size”. Yet the NHS estimates that obesity costs the service £6bn every year, a figure projected to rise to over £9.7bn by 2050. Matthew Crawford, who at 55 stone once earned the title of “the UK’s fattest man”, requiring four adjacent hospital beds to lie down, died last year from sepsis and organ failure. Purportedly quite nice fellow, he was only 37.

Far too many people make themselves miserable over their weight, sometimes anguishing disproportionately over a few extra pounds. Nevertheless, is it in our communal interest for obesity to become broadly condoned? Already, especially in the US, television presenters and commentators are growing ever portlier. What qualifies as a standard build has risen several sizes. That’s good news for bigger people, who may feel more socially at ease, but bad news for any nation’s medical bills.

The drive for alleviation of stigma doesn’t stop at fat. We are henceforth to spurn the word “prostitute” and substitute the less loaded “sex worker”. This linguistic tweak is intended to convey that selling sexual services is no more degrading than attorneys selling legal services. “Sex work” is merely a career path, as deserving of respect as accounting or interior design. If specialists in desire wish to perform certain physical acts for a price, that is literally their business.

The world’s oldest profession is never going away. Personally, I support decriminalisation of prostitution. Yet most of the prosperous progressives who advocate this new open-mindedness would never themselves trade intimate access to their bodies for money in a million years. These are the same people who, if their daughter announced that instead of studying Economics at UCL she aspired to become a “sex worker”, would be horrified and would probably send the kid to a therapist. These are the same people who, should their daughter indeed end up walking the streets at 2am in fishnets, would regard her as in some ways lost and themselves as having failed as parents.

Expunging stigma is not so simple a matter as wiping down a sticky marble counter with Cillit Bang, job done. Stigma is more like the black mould on the wall of the loo, which has an exasperating tendency to grow right back. Moreover, any society that pushed its young to pursue “careers” in prostitution would either be very desperate or deeply disturbed. I know of nowhere in the world where selling one’s body for sex is a neutral option. It’s reliably a last resort, and no new terminology can make the experience of turning tricks any more agreeable or raise the status of the sex trade a jot.

Drug addiction and alcoholism are now subject to the same brisk Left-wing housecleaning. Enlightened social services have rechristened an addict or drunk, “person struggling with substance use” — we no longer say “abuse” — or “person with substance use disorder”. The most extreme manifestations of this new moral detachment are in San Francisco and LA, whose downtowns are now covered with tented encampments of homeless people — whom we’re now meant to call “the unhoused”, the grammatical inference being that their circumstances are wholly the responsibility of some delinquent outside party. These denizens of faeces-strewn pavements are almost all drug addicts or alcoholics who may also be mentally ill. The city provides food, pocket money, drug paraphernalia, and safe, sanitary venues for getting high, because consuming meth, fentanyl, or a bottle of vodka every day is merely a defensible life choice. Behold, no stigma. What’s an addict not to like? Big surprise, the population of substance users in these cities continues to soar.

California has also effectively destigmatised theft, by demoting shoplifting of goods worth less than $950 to a misdemeanour, which police ignore as inconsequential. Ravaged by losses, businesses are closing retail outlets. If everybody does it — if stealing is normal and never punished — California’s shoplifters have no reason to feel contrite. Likewise, in the riots following the death of George Floyd, the wholesale ransacking of shops was justified as a “mass protest against our dominant conceptions of property”, as the sociologist Russell Dynes put it. Vicky Osterweil, author of In Defense of Looting, commended widespread commercial theft because it “gets people what they need for free immediately”. Looting also, she says, “attacks the history of whiteness and white supremacy”.

Yet this takes the biscuit: the serious campaign to make paedophilia respectable. Apparently, the stigmatisation of “Minor Attracted Persons” is unfair, because Minor Attracted Persons (MAPs) are just doing what anyone sexually drawn to children would naturally do. This MAPs business so crosses a line that it makes the prospective rehabilitation of a range of other once-villainous behaviours short of fanciful. Rapists could soon become “people with a coercion disorder”.  Burglars might be reclassified as “people living with other people’s things”. Perhaps we’ll simply see “Murder Attracted Persons” as “being themselves” — and who are we to interfere with their sanguinary self-expression?

For the consistent pattern here is an accelerating, positively demented refusal to make judgments. The stigma that once attached to socially unacceptable conduct has shifted from the transgressor to the adjudicator. If you use the word “addict” and ever suggest that maybe getting clean would make this person happier and more productive, you’re the problem.

Furthermore, the language of mindless moral neutrality — “people living with obesity”, “people with substance use disorder” — distances people from their own decisions and deprives them of agency. The plight of alcoholics, drug addicts, and the life-threateningly overweight is medicalised, ascribed to having innocently contracted a disease. For erstwhile outcasts, the price of acceptance is helplessness, if not hopelessness. If your behaviour played no role in determining your current circumstances, then presumably behaving otherwise won’t improve those circumstances, either. You’re stuck.

Stigma has its place. We’re not obliged to celebrate everything our neighbours get up to. For the sake of a liveable country, we should fiercely discourage addiction to substances that turn people into stupefied dependents on the rest of us. Stealing, looting, prostitution, medically burdensome obesity, and sexual predation on children don’t make the world a better place. We should want thugs who break into our homes to feel shunned. For shame, guilt, and remorse also have their place. AA’s classic “hitting bottom” often involves self-disgust, which can finally motivate folks to pick themselves up.

If not all stigma is bad, some stigma is still both poisonous and unjustified, and it remains the case that pariah status can be whipped up with a vengeance almost overnight. Not long ago, one group was singled out as homicidal, delusional, and stupid. Pundits and politicians alike urged us to spurn their company; complex bureaucracies sprang up to keep the scum from restaurants, cinemas, and planes. Social media’s pitchfork brigade demanded this subhuman dross be denied access to healthcare or brazenly hoped they’d all die. That’s right, the unvaccinated. Stigma at its most ferocious. (For the record: I am triple jabbed.)

Clearly, stigma is a powerful force — for ill or good — which, having been firmly planted in a collective psyche, is not necessarily subject to top-down control. Stigma is sticky. Once a population is stigmatised, it’s hard to take the stigma back. When most of us watch Charlie showering his infeasible naked bulk in The Whale, no number of lectures from fat activists or censorious comment pieces in the New York Times can mitigate an unsettling sense of revulsion — which, even if tinged with a vertiginous sympathy and sorrow, still rivals my mother’s disgust at her daughter’s “shacking up”.


Lionel Shriver is an author, journalist and columnist for The Spectator. Her new book, Mania, is published by the Borough Press.


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hayden eastwood
hayden eastwood
1 year ago

This is a wonderful article, Lionel, and you say the obvious in a way which few people will now do.

But I must disagree with some of it. “For the consistent pattern here is an accelerating, positively demented refusal to make judgments. ”

This is not entirely true. Society does make judgements, but they are different to what they once were and they are no longer “pro social”.

Look at the moral panic around race.
I once asked a prospective candidate to proofread his CV. An hour later my boss and an HR goon called me to “discuss the interview” because the candidate had complained that my insistence on good grammar was code for “hiring native English speakers”, and therefore “white people” only.
I concealed that the candidate in question was a sheep-white Yorkshireman. HR were too afraid to ask me what his skin colour was, preferring to make this a “general point”.

But when I did finally disclose the colour of the fellow, the sigh of relief was audible. Until that point they feared a multimillion pound racial harassment lawsuit and, until that point, I was in danger of losing my job.

The other stigma, implied but not stated, was that, being a white African, I was self evidently a racist. For many circles of leftwing intellectual, and for many woke corporates, white skin itself is a stigma. And if you are both white and from Africa (they don’t often appear to distinguish one white African from another – presumably we are one homogenous “evil type” in their eyes), then you are doubly in the wrong.

In our current time a mere accusation of racism can end a career. And denying an allegation of racism is often considered to be proof that the accusation had merit to begin with (for only someone who was guilty would, as their Quantum mechanical double-think goes, protest their innocence). Allegations like this stick to a person like jam to a biscuit.
People are also judged for failing to use the right language. There are ever shifting goal posts of vocabulary that “right thinking” people must consistently keep up with to demonstrate their purity.
There is therefore judgement attached by self-identified gatekeepers to we commoners for what they imagine we think, rather than to how we conduct ourselves with people we relate to in the real world.
It is not true, then, that we are moving inexorably towards “non judgement”, but rather to a world where new playmakers decide what we should and shouldn’t be judgemental about.
And they largely appear to be unconcerned with the reality that much of what they advocate hurts the very groups they imagine themselves to be representing (which is where myself and Lionel are in full agreement).

Last edited 1 year ago by hayden eastwood
Alan Tonkyn
Alan Tonkyn
1 year ago

I agree with you, Hayden, both as to the excellence of the article and your point that judgement still exists but has switched its focus to new attitudes and behaviours. Little shame is now attached to abandoning your partner and children, and single parents are just a fact of life. However, if you should draw attention to the fact that much poverty and mental illness is linked to this selfish behaviour, you are clearly some kind of uncaring social fascist! My church belongs to the ‘inclusive Church’ network, which seems to be code for LGBT acceptance. That’s all very well, but conservative Christians who, for example, think that marriage is by definition a heterosexual union are clearly NOT ‘included’!

nigel roberts
nigel roberts
1 year ago
Reply to  Alan Tonkyn

“I’m sorry sir, we can’t let you into this meeting. It’s an *inclusive* meeting. Your sort aren’t welcome.”

Andrew Daws
Andrew Daws
1 year ago
Reply to  Alan Tonkyn

This ‘inclusive church’ concept is not as lovely as you think. Frankin Graham says frequently that gay people are welcome in his church. At other times he is more honest: he says gays are welcomed in, then when they join they are expected to undergo gay conversion therapy. Ask your liberal accepting friends whether they believe that it’s just as good for children to be brought up by a single sex couple or whether in an ideal world they would always have a mother and a father.

nigel roberts
nigel roberts
1 year ago
Reply to  Alan Tonkyn

“I’m sorry sir, we can’t let you into this meeting. It’s an *inclusive* meeting. Your sort aren’t welcome.”

Andrew Daws
Andrew Daws
1 year ago
Reply to  Alan Tonkyn

This ‘inclusive church’ concept is not as lovely as you think. Frankin Graham says frequently that gay people are welcome in his church. At other times he is more honest: he says gays are welcomed in, then when they join they are expected to undergo gay conversion therapy. Ask your liberal accepting friends whether they believe that it’s just as good for children to be brought up by a single sex couple or whether in an ideal world they would always have a mother and a father.

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
1 year ago

Well done sir! (If I may be so bold as to assume your chosen pronoun)
For me, the key sentence was “Stealing, looting, prostitution, medically burdensome obesity, and sexual predation on children don’t make the world a better place.”  The author apparently has no issue with being the sole arbiter of good and bad in this case. But isn’t that the point of it all? In a society that believes in moral relativity, we each have the right to decide what is good or bad. If that is the case then anything goes. Absolutely anything.

Andrew Daws
Andrew Daws
1 year ago
Reply to  Warren Trees

Lionel, male by name and appearance, is actually an adult human female. Very confusing. But of course we don’t DO genders any more do we?

S Gyngel
S Gyngel
1 year ago
Reply to  Andrew Daws

To think Lionel Shriver is ‘male by appearance’ is to make the assumption that women are make-up and fake nails. She is very clearly an adult human – intelligent- female.

S Gyngel
S Gyngel
1 year ago
Reply to  Andrew Daws

To think Lionel Shriver is ‘male by appearance’ is to make the assumption that women are make-up and fake nails. She is very clearly an adult human – intelligent- female.

Andrew Daws
Andrew Daws
1 year ago
Reply to  Warren Trees

Lionel, male by name and appearance, is actually an adult human female. Very confusing. But of course we don’t DO genders any more do we?

William Murphy
William Murphy
1 year ago

To add to the chaos, the people who traditionally made judgements now hesitate. Witness Pope Francis when questioned about the new head of the Papal Household having a very lurid same sex history in Montevideo – “Who am I to judge?” You’re the ******* Pope, sunshine…. As riotously parodied in this video from early in his reign. Since then he has declared in writing that all religions are willed by God. I’m not sure if that includes Satanists and Scientologist.

https://youtu.be/WEchg1KhmTY

Walter Marvell
Walter Marvell
1 year ago

The most potent political, cultural and social credo of this new century is making ANY form of discrimination an evil. Groupthink sits guard ready to banish and denounce any transgressor from the tribe. The media focus on race gender and the ‘Big Nine’ legally privileged Victim groups, but the anti discriminayory mania – call it M.A.D – is actually way way bigger than all that. It is a wormlike form of derangement and groupthink that is now IN us all. Stigma was an inevitable casualty of MAD. Any ‘judgement’ which implies looking down at another person’s behaviour is taboo. Welcome to the grubby realities of a vacuum carved out by a bland secular post Christian Age suddenly filled by a noxious cult of equality and its mean fists in our faces – a universal terror of discrimination. Fight this fight too wonderful Lionel.

Shane Varcoe
Shane Varcoe
1 year ago

A little initial ‘shame’ that adjusts conduct can save a great deal of guilt and pain (for many) of future unfettered and habitual, ummm… ‘less than best-practice’ behaviours.
A little initial ‘shame’ that adjusts conduct, can save a great deal of guilt and pain (for many) of future unfettered and now habitual “less that best-practice”.
Substance Use and Stigma – What are the drivers for stigma? Is the fact that someone simply uses a drug that makes them the target of derision and abuse? Clearly not, as it seems very fashionable for growing demographics to enter into the ‘recreational use’ of drugs. So, what is it that actually attracts the ire that can, at times, pronounce pejoratives over some drug using punters?
“INTERPRETATIONS OF SOCIAL STIGMA CAN BE LINKED TO SEVERAL MEASURES. OUR FIRST POINT OF UNDERSTANDING MUST COME FROM INVESTIGATING THE ETYMOLOGY OF THE WORD STIGMA. ACCORDING TO MERRIAM-WEBSTER IT REFERS TO A MARK, AND NOT SO MUCH IN RELATION TO A ‘BLEMISH AGAINST ONE’S NAME’, (SOCIO-ETHICAL DISAPPROVAL) BUT VERY MUCH MORE TO DO WITH A ‘BRANDING’, A SOCIAL STATUS THAT DERIVES FROM THE ORIGINAL NOMENCLATURE, WHICH REFERS TO THAT OF A SLAVE.
This social status identifier was directly linked to being ‘owned’ – the property of someone, or something. This ‘branding’ then shaped the identity by stripping away personhood, self-governance/ agency and capacity, as you were now first and foremost property, not person. The removal of that ‘stigma’ and the restoration of human dignity came when one was out from under, not the ‘label’, but the ownership, the dominion/control of that one or thing.” Drug_Use_Stigma_22-07-19.pdf (nobrainer.org.au)

Alan Tonkyn
Alan Tonkyn
1 year ago

I agree with you, Hayden, both as to the excellence of the article and your point that judgement still exists but has switched its focus to new attitudes and behaviours. Little shame is now attached to abandoning your partner and children, and single parents are just a fact of life. However, if you should draw attention to the fact that much poverty and mental illness is linked to this selfish behaviour, you are clearly some kind of uncaring social fascist! My church belongs to the ‘inclusive Church’ network, which seems to be code for LGBT acceptance. That’s all very well, but conservative Christians who, for example, think that marriage is by definition a heterosexual union are clearly NOT ‘included’!

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
1 year ago

Well done sir! (If I may be so bold as to assume your chosen pronoun)
For me, the key sentence was “Stealing, looting, prostitution, medically burdensome obesity, and sexual predation on children don’t make the world a better place.”  The author apparently has no issue with being the sole arbiter of good and bad in this case. But isn’t that the point of it all? In a society that believes in moral relativity, we each have the right to decide what is good or bad. If that is the case then anything goes. Absolutely anything.

William Murphy
William Murphy
1 year ago

To add to the chaos, the people who traditionally made judgements now hesitate. Witness Pope Francis when questioned about the new head of the Papal Household having a very lurid same sex history in Montevideo – “Who am I to judge?” You’re the ******* Pope, sunshine…. As riotously parodied in this video from early in his reign. Since then he has declared in writing that all religions are willed by God. I’m not sure if that includes Satanists and Scientologist.

https://youtu.be/WEchg1KhmTY

Walter Marvell
Walter Marvell
1 year ago

The most potent political, cultural and social credo of this new century is making ANY form of discrimination an evil. Groupthink sits guard ready to banish and denounce any transgressor from the tribe. The media focus on race gender and the ‘Big Nine’ legally privileged Victim groups, but the anti discriminayory mania – call it M.A.D – is actually way way bigger than all that. It is a wormlike form of derangement and groupthink that is now IN us all. Stigma was an inevitable casualty of MAD. Any ‘judgement’ which implies looking down at another person’s behaviour is taboo. Welcome to the grubby realities of a vacuum carved out by a bland secular post Christian Age suddenly filled by a noxious cult of equality and its mean fists in our faces – a universal terror of discrimination. Fight this fight too wonderful Lionel.

Shane Varcoe
Shane Varcoe
1 year ago

A little initial ‘shame’ that adjusts conduct can save a great deal of guilt and pain (for many) of future unfettered and habitual, ummm… ‘less than best-practice’ behaviours.
A little initial ‘shame’ that adjusts conduct, can save a great deal of guilt and pain (for many) of future unfettered and now habitual “less that best-practice”.
Substance Use and Stigma – What are the drivers for stigma? Is the fact that someone simply uses a drug that makes them the target of derision and abuse? Clearly not, as it seems very fashionable for growing demographics to enter into the ‘recreational use’ of drugs. So, what is it that actually attracts the ire that can, at times, pronounce pejoratives over some drug using punters?
“INTERPRETATIONS OF SOCIAL STIGMA CAN BE LINKED TO SEVERAL MEASURES. OUR FIRST POINT OF UNDERSTANDING MUST COME FROM INVESTIGATING THE ETYMOLOGY OF THE WORD STIGMA. ACCORDING TO MERRIAM-WEBSTER IT REFERS TO A MARK, AND NOT SO MUCH IN RELATION TO A ‘BLEMISH AGAINST ONE’S NAME’, (SOCIO-ETHICAL DISAPPROVAL) BUT VERY MUCH MORE TO DO WITH A ‘BRANDING’, A SOCIAL STATUS THAT DERIVES FROM THE ORIGINAL NOMENCLATURE, WHICH REFERS TO THAT OF A SLAVE.
This social status identifier was directly linked to being ‘owned’ – the property of someone, or something. This ‘branding’ then shaped the identity by stripping away personhood, self-governance/ agency and capacity, as you were now first and foremost property, not person. The removal of that ‘stigma’ and the restoration of human dignity came when one was out from under, not the ‘label’, but the ownership, the dominion/control of that one or thing.” Drug_Use_Stigma_22-07-19.pdf (nobrainer.org.au)

hayden eastwood
hayden eastwood
1 year ago

This is a wonderful article, Lionel, and you say the obvious in a way which few people will now do.

But I must disagree with some of it. “For the consistent pattern here is an accelerating, positively demented refusal to make judgments. ”

This is not entirely true. Society does make judgements, but they are different to what they once were and they are no longer “pro social”.

Look at the moral panic around race.
I once asked a prospective candidate to proofread his CV. An hour later my boss and an HR goon called me to “discuss the interview” because the candidate had complained that my insistence on good grammar was code for “hiring native English speakers”, and therefore “white people” only.
I concealed that the candidate in question was a sheep-white Yorkshireman. HR were too afraid to ask me what his skin colour was, preferring to make this a “general point”.

But when I did finally disclose the colour of the fellow, the sigh of relief was audible. Until that point they feared a multimillion pound racial harassment lawsuit and, until that point, I was in danger of losing my job.

The other stigma, implied but not stated, was that, being a white African, I was self evidently a racist. For many circles of leftwing intellectual, and for many woke corporates, white skin itself is a stigma. And if you are both white and from Africa (they don’t often appear to distinguish one white African from another – presumably we are one homogenous “evil type” in their eyes), then you are doubly in the wrong.

In our current time a mere accusation of racism can end a career. And denying an allegation of racism is often considered to be proof that the accusation had merit to begin with (for only someone who was guilty would, as their Quantum mechanical double-think goes, protest their innocence). Allegations like this stick to a person like jam to a biscuit.
People are also judged for failing to use the right language. There are ever shifting goal posts of vocabulary that “right thinking” people must consistently keep up with to demonstrate their purity.
There is therefore judgement attached by self-identified gatekeepers to we commoners for what they imagine we think, rather than to how we conduct ourselves with people we relate to in the real world.
It is not true, then, that we are moving inexorably towards “non judgement”, but rather to a world where new playmakers decide what we should and shouldn’t be judgemental about.
And they largely appear to be unconcerned with the reality that much of what they advocate hurts the very groups they imagine themselves to be representing (which is where myself and Lionel are in full agreement).

Last edited 1 year ago by hayden eastwood
Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
1 year ago

This is a case of a liberal society eating itself. Every society needs binding rules and respected principles to function. Those rules/principles – by their very nature – limit one’s freedom, either by the force of law or by societal judgment, i.e. stigma. It’s foolish to think that a liberal society means trashing all of these rules in favour of untrammelled freedom.
The question is – where do you redraw the line in modern society? It’s a good thing that some things have been destigmatised – who would want to go back to the dark days of homosexuality being illegal?
But it’s all gone too far now. People who get so morbidly overweight that they can’t work or even walk…primarily they are damaging themselves, but there is a cost to society from the situation they have put themselves in (health care costs, benefits etc.). And therein lies the rub: stigma needs to happen where individual behaviour starts to have too much of an adverse effect on others/society as a whole. Liberal society presupposes that the people in it are able to deal sensibly with the freedoms they have. If you reach that inflection point, then the person clearly hasn’t handled their freedoms well and the behaviour needs regulating – either by law or by peer pressure. That’s how all societies work – even liberal ones. No rules, no society.
To continue too far down the destigmatisation road and to insist on ever more things being free of judgment is also to infantilise society. One of the fundamental acts of growing up is realising that you can’t do what you want and have what you want all the time. You hear the word “no”, have restrictions placed upon you and learn how to operate within them. Allowing everybody to do just what they want all the time without consequence leads to a society comprising narcissistic, overgrown kids with no consideration for how their own conduct might impact on others. Not a pleasant prospect.

Last edited 1 year ago by Katharine Eyre
Anthony Michaels
Anthony Michaels
1 year ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Ah the slippery slope. The undefeated champion!

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
1 year ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

But who decides? If humans get to choose, we are doomed.

Cathy Carron
Cathy Carron
1 year ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

There’s something about these ‘new standards’ that not only scream ‘leftism, socialism’, etc. but also low-class, un- or under- educated, undisciplined, moronic and even barbaric (chopping body parts off to attain a new gender). Yup, you can even say ‘stigmas’ contribute to a more cultured and civilized society, ie we’re going backwards.

nigel roberts
nigel roberts
1 year ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Prospect? If only it were still a “prospect”!

John Dee
John Dee
1 year ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Trouble is, the infants seem to have attained positions of authority.

Anthony Michaels
Anthony Michaels
1 year ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Ah the slippery slope. The undefeated champion!

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
1 year ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

But who decides? If humans get to choose, we are doomed.

Cathy Carron
Cathy Carron
1 year ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

There’s something about these ‘new standards’ that not only scream ‘leftism, socialism’, etc. but also low-class, un- or under- educated, undisciplined, moronic and even barbaric (chopping body parts off to attain a new gender). Yup, you can even say ‘stigmas’ contribute to a more cultured and civilized society, ie we’re going backwards.

nigel roberts
nigel roberts
1 year ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Prospect? If only it were still a “prospect”!

John Dee
John Dee
1 year ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Trouble is, the infants seem to have attained positions of authority.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
1 year ago

This is a case of a liberal society eating itself. Every society needs binding rules and respected principles to function. Those rules/principles – by their very nature – limit one’s freedom, either by the force of law or by societal judgment, i.e. stigma. It’s foolish to think that a liberal society means trashing all of these rules in favour of untrammelled freedom.
The question is – where do you redraw the line in modern society? It’s a good thing that some things have been destigmatised – who would want to go back to the dark days of homosexuality being illegal?
But it’s all gone too far now. People who get so morbidly overweight that they can’t work or even walk…primarily they are damaging themselves, but there is a cost to society from the situation they have put themselves in (health care costs, benefits etc.). And therein lies the rub: stigma needs to happen where individual behaviour starts to have too much of an adverse effect on others/society as a whole. Liberal society presupposes that the people in it are able to deal sensibly with the freedoms they have. If you reach that inflection point, then the person clearly hasn’t handled their freedoms well and the behaviour needs regulating – either by law or by peer pressure. That’s how all societies work – even liberal ones. No rules, no society.
To continue too far down the destigmatisation road and to insist on ever more things being free of judgment is also to infantilise society. One of the fundamental acts of growing up is realising that you can’t do what you want and have what you want all the time. You hear the word “no”, have restrictions placed upon you and learn how to operate within them. Allowing everybody to do just what they want all the time without consequence leads to a society comprising narcissistic, overgrown kids with no consideration for how their own conduct might impact on others. Not a pleasant prospect.

Last edited 1 year ago by Katharine Eyre
Matt Hindman
Matt Hindman
1 year ago

Whatever happened to sympathy while encouraging people to better themselves? I’m sorry, but you cannot help someone if you pretend they do not have a problem.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
1 year ago
Reply to  Matt Hindman

There’s a great deal to be said for the concept of sometimes having to “be cruel to be kind”.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
1 year ago
Reply to  Matt Hindman

What about responsibility? The Kohima Epitaph says ” We gave our day for your tommorrow “. Millions died and and were crippled during WW2. People conquered fear, cold hunger in order to ensure our freedom yet some people lack the emotional maturity, responsibility ,self control to prevent themselves becoming obese which means others have to pay vast amounts for their health care.
Guy Gibson VC said he was scared everytime he flew yet this never stopped him. Odette Sansom GC resisted telling the Gestapo information even when she was burnt with pokers and had her toe nails ripped out. Why can the obese not summon a fraction of the self control of Gibson or Sansom. Can civilisation endure without self control?

Adrian Maxwell
Adrian Maxwell
1 year ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

The problem with your examples vis-a-vis today, if I may say, is that the defenders of Kohima, Gibson VC and Sansom GC had the strength and responsibility (duty) that flows easily from a moral imperative, or to put it less dramatically, a consensus. Today there is little or no moral imperative, as exampled in the article. Anything goes. I doubt self control ever enters the heads of obese people. Why should it?

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
1 year ago
Reply to  Adrian Maxwell

You are probably correct which is depressing.

Roddy Campbell
Roddy Campbell
1 year ago
Reply to  Adrian Maxwell

I think that today’s ‘everything goes’ society might struggle to produce a Guy Gibson or an Odette Samsom.

We may have to go back to the lab (but not Wing Cdr Gibson’s lab).

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
1 year ago
Reply to  Adrian Maxwell

You are probably correct which is depressing.

Roddy Campbell
Roddy Campbell
1 year ago
Reply to  Adrian Maxwell

I think that today’s ‘everything goes’ society might struggle to produce a Guy Gibson or an Odette Samsom.

We may have to go back to the lab (but not Wing Cdr Gibson’s lab).

nigel roberts
nigel roberts
1 year ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

Pedant alert: it actually says

For your tomorrow
We gave our today.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
1 year ago
Reply to  nigel roberts

Thnk you.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
1 year ago
Reply to  nigel roberts

Thnk you.

Adrian Maxwell
Adrian Maxwell
1 year ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

The problem with your examples vis-a-vis today, if I may say, is that the defenders of Kohima, Gibson VC and Sansom GC had the strength and responsibility (duty) that flows easily from a moral imperative, or to put it less dramatically, a consensus. Today there is little or no moral imperative, as exampled in the article. Anything goes. I doubt self control ever enters the heads of obese people. Why should it?

nigel roberts
nigel roberts
1 year ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

Pedant alert: it actually says

For your tomorrow
We gave our today.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
1 year ago
Reply to  Matt Hindman

There’s a great deal to be said for the concept of sometimes having to “be cruel to be kind”.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
1 year ago
Reply to  Matt Hindman

What about responsibility? The Kohima Epitaph says ” We gave our day for your tommorrow “. Millions died and and were crippled during WW2. People conquered fear, cold hunger in order to ensure our freedom yet some people lack the emotional maturity, responsibility ,self control to prevent themselves becoming obese which means others have to pay vast amounts for their health care.
Guy Gibson VC said he was scared everytime he flew yet this never stopped him. Odette Sansom GC resisted telling the Gestapo information even when she was burnt with pokers and had her toe nails ripped out. Why can the obese not summon a fraction of the self control of Gibson or Sansom. Can civilisation endure without self control?

Matt Hindman
Matt Hindman
1 year ago

Whatever happened to sympathy while encouraging people to better themselves? I’m sorry, but you cannot help someone if you pretend they do not have a problem.

Frances An
Frances An
1 year ago

Lionel Shriver writes with the emotional acuteness of an artist and the specificity of a scientist. Many of the article’s personal and philosophical insights resonated with some of the dilemmas I faced. Like Shriver, I also have very conservative parents. I despised and rebelled against their various prohibitions but also recognised that having some sense of moral limit protected me from the chaos that overly liberated behaviour could bring me and loved ones. Shame and the other secondary emotions (guilt and embarrassment) are powerful and innate. They evolved to facilitate social harmony. To try and program them out in the name of social justice is to overturn human nature and sow collective breakdown. Shriver’s voice and insights are so distinct in both her essays and fiction. I admire her a lot! 🙂

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
1 year ago
Reply to  Frances An

Well said, and that trumps the “lets return to a religious worldview” a million times over.

Josh Allan
Josh Allan
1 year ago
Reply to  Frances An

I do think Shriver is probably the best writer around. Her fortnightly Spectator articles are always worth a read too.

Claude Miller
Claude Miller
1 year ago
Reply to  Frances An

Excellent points, Frances An. An interesting aspect of shame is that it is most functional at the group or societal level, but tends to be dysfunctional at the individual level. That is to say shame helps keep people in line by presenting the threat of ostracism –nobody wants to be a pariah, so shame represents the threat of being an outcast that tends to help regulate society. However, at the individual level, the coping behaviors for shame are not specifically uplifting. Unlike guilt–with its focus on the transgression rather than the self–toward which individuals generally respond with recompense (thereby making themselves better individuals), with shame–and its focus on the self–individuals tend to cope by minimizing the perceived negative attribute (and/or transgression if there is one), or externalize the cause (rather than attribute to their own control), and the effect shame has on anger can often be ugly. On the other hand, guilt combines with anger in more constructive ways. So your point about how shame is powerful and innate and evolved to facilitate social harmony is well taken, and moreover, to try to program it out is both ill considered and futile. The trick is to try to shift or transform feelings of shame into feelings of guilt so that the coping behaviors for the individual are more self-improving rather than painful and debilitating.

S Wilkinson
S Wilkinson
1 year ago
Reply to  Claude Miller

Very good points.

S Wilkinson
S Wilkinson
1 year ago
Reply to  Claude Miller

Very good points.

John Dee
John Dee
1 year ago
Reply to  Frances An

It used to be that kids sowed their wild oats and then settled down. What seems to have happened is that increasing numbers have decided that wild oats (utterly selfish behaviour) should be a lifetime thing. There’s only one end to that tendency, but you’d have to stop and consider it before you’d worry.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
1 year ago
Reply to  Frances An

Well said, and that trumps the “lets return to a religious worldview” a million times over.

Josh Allan
Josh Allan
1 year ago
Reply to  Frances An

I do think Shriver is probably the best writer around. Her fortnightly Spectator articles are always worth a read too.

Claude Miller
Claude Miller
1 year ago
Reply to  Frances An

Excellent points, Frances An. An interesting aspect of shame is that it is most functional at the group or societal level, but tends to be dysfunctional at the individual level. That is to say shame helps keep people in line by presenting the threat of ostracism –nobody wants to be a pariah, so shame represents the threat of being an outcast that tends to help regulate society. However, at the individual level, the coping behaviors for shame are not specifically uplifting. Unlike guilt–with its focus on the transgression rather than the self–toward which individuals generally respond with recompense (thereby making themselves better individuals), with shame–and its focus on the self–individuals tend to cope by minimizing the perceived negative attribute (and/or transgression if there is one), or externalize the cause (rather than attribute to their own control), and the effect shame has on anger can often be ugly. On the other hand, guilt combines with anger in more constructive ways. So your point about how shame is powerful and innate and evolved to facilitate social harmony is well taken, and moreover, to try to program it out is both ill considered and futile. The trick is to try to shift or transform feelings of shame into feelings of guilt so that the coping behaviors for the individual are more self-improving rather than painful and debilitating.

John Dee
John Dee
1 year ago
Reply to  Frances An

It used to be that kids sowed their wild oats and then settled down. What seems to have happened is that increasing numbers have decided that wild oats (utterly selfish behaviour) should be a lifetime thing. There’s only one end to that tendency, but you’d have to stop and consider it before you’d worry.

Frances An
Frances An
1 year ago

Lionel Shriver writes with the emotional acuteness of an artist and the specificity of a scientist. Many of the article’s personal and philosophical insights resonated with some of the dilemmas I faced. Like Shriver, I also have very conservative parents. I despised and rebelled against their various prohibitions but also recognised that having some sense of moral limit protected me from the chaos that overly liberated behaviour could bring me and loved ones. Shame and the other secondary emotions (guilt and embarrassment) are powerful and innate. They evolved to facilitate social harmony. To try and program them out in the name of social justice is to overturn human nature and sow collective breakdown. Shriver’s voice and insights are so distinct in both her essays and fiction. I admire her a lot! 🙂

Phillipa Fioretti
Phillipa Fioretti
1 year ago

Good article. The rise of obesity and attempts to normalise it says something is really unbalanced in our society. The astonishing ease with which high calorie food can be procured, the use of additives that are obesogenic and the cult of eating ‘special’ food every day, must send food manufacturers into swoons of delight. They probably push the movement against fat shaming. It’s profitable for them for obesity to be normalised. But it’s not normal. Something north of 60 per cent of the British population is overweight. It contributes to personal misery and poor health outcomes everywhere. It is evidence of malnutrition and yet we accept it and are now asked to embrace it. It’s too bizarre.

John Dee
John Dee
1 year ago

Strangely, those who end up fat don’t eat much fat, due to over half a century of ‘eating fat is bad’ propaganda.
Those who do eat plenty of fat (and avoid ultra-processed foods) tend to be slimmer.

John Dee
John Dee
1 year ago

Strangely, those who end up fat don’t eat much fat, due to over half a century of ‘eating fat is bad’ propaganda.
Those who do eat plenty of fat (and avoid ultra-processed foods) tend to be slimmer.

Phillipa Fioretti
Phillipa Fioretti
1 year ago

Good article. The rise of obesity and attempts to normalise it says something is really unbalanced in our society. The astonishing ease with which high calorie food can be procured, the use of additives that are obesogenic and the cult of eating ‘special’ food every day, must send food manufacturers into swoons of delight. They probably push the movement against fat shaming. It’s profitable for them for obesity to be normalised. But it’s not normal. Something north of 60 per cent of the British population is overweight. It contributes to personal misery and poor health outcomes everywhere. It is evidence of malnutrition and yet we accept it and are now asked to embrace it. It’s too bizarre.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
1 year ago

A few years ago the University of Utrecht hosted one of its alumni to come speak to its students about entrepreneurship. She was a successful business lady who had started her own sex agency. After her talk she handed out brochures for any female students interested in working for her. The university’s course applauded her initiative and approved the kind of work she was offering as a viable means of paying for college tuition and avoiding study debt. The Dutch government has so infantilized its own people that they have come to see this form of servitude as a means to personal liberation.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
1 year ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

The Dutch have always had a much more relaxed attitude to life though. I’ve known a good few over the years and most seem to believe that people should be left to do as they please, as long as it doesn’t adversely affect others

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
1 year ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

I’m certainly a believer in “live and let live”, and yet the rise in obesity has clearly become a cost to society. Not on an individual level perhaps, and that’s where the ‘thinking’ of those who would seek to do away with previous stigmas fall short.
I’m not suggesting you were implying the Dutch were right, btw, simply describing their mindset.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

Strangely enough I never came across any fat Dutch on my travels that I can remember.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

Strangely enough I never came across any fat Dutch on my travels that I can remember.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
1 year ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

I’m certainly a believer in “live and let live”, and yet the rise in obesity has clearly become a cost to society. Not on an individual level perhaps, and that’s where the ‘thinking’ of those who would seek to do away with previous stigmas fall short.
I’m not suggesting you were implying the Dutch were right, btw, simply describing their mindset.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
1 year ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

The Dutch have always had a much more relaxed attitude to life though. I’ve known a good few over the years and most seem to believe that people should be left to do as they please, as long as it doesn’t adversely affect others

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
1 year ago

A few years ago the University of Utrecht hosted one of its alumni to come speak to its students about entrepreneurship. She was a successful business lady who had started her own sex agency. After her talk she handed out brochures for any female students interested in working for her. The university’s course applauded her initiative and approved the kind of work she was offering as a viable means of paying for college tuition and avoiding study debt. The Dutch government has so infantilized its own people that they have come to see this form of servitude as a means to personal liberation.

Steve White
Steve White
1 year ago

My problem with the author is this. She is lamenting the loss of prior standards, while at the same time never having her own worldview that would create those same standards. She wants shame to come back, but only for pragmatic reasons hollowed out of any meaning beyond their secular utility.
She laments the destructive and chaotic effects of sex unmoored from any universal standards, and yet argues for them only for cultural utility. Is masturbating hurting anyone else? Is her own husband denied intimacy for her self-focused indulgence? Who or what is she thinking of when she does this to herself? Is feeding that secret desire having no effect at all on her marriage relationship?  
I think what is missing there is motives, and desires of the heart are important too. It’s not simply our external actions, but Jesus got to the heart of the issue in the Sermon on the Mount. Character begins in the heart and mind, but really she has no interest in the transcendent objective standards that her parents raised her with, only the fruit of it, stripped of the universal truths that gives meaning to the particular fruits and actions.
This is sort of like the prodigal son who wanted the inheritance without the faither. He wanted the benefits and the good things without the true relationship, but he took that and simply used and squandered it, winding up with nothing and eating with pigs.
Lionel, you can’t have the particulars without the transcendent universal that gives meaning to the particulars. These are the basic philosophical categories, universals, and particulars we find in Platonism and Aristotelianism. There must be a universal objective reality giving meaning to the particulars of our finite subjective lives or else even the particulars we rely on will begin to lose their meaning, and as you have observed, chaos ensues. To be brief, you can’t have your previously more just and ordered society and ditch God. You can’t ditch the Christianity and it’s previously accepted standards, and still have the world function. It’s going to fall apart into something much darker. 

Christian Moon
Christian Moon
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve White

Not sure how natural to the feminine sensibility transcendent standards and principles really are. We are blessed instead to live in the triumph of feminism.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve White

Oh please, spare us the righteousness. I’d suggest to you that Lionel has transcendent standards that transcend the limitations of a world view based upon the premise that Christ was, or was related to, a deity. It’s the very failure of that deification that’s led to a change in mores, not because somehow humans are “fallen” (for goodness sake).
Christianity has some fine principles, there’s no doubt about that; but those principles have no objective backing by a non-existent god. Pretending otherwise is an utterly retrograde step for us all.

Michael McElwee
Michael McElwee
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

Are there particulars from which universals might be drawn? Isn’t that the question? Schopenhauer claims to have set Hume straight on it. Did he?

Last edited 1 year ago by Michael McElwee
Dominic A
Dominic A
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

I was listening this week to Sam Harris recounting a conversation with a leading American preacher who said that were it not for his faith in God, he’d have nothing to hold himself back from sin – killing, raping etc. He seemed to genuinely believe this. What a tragic, pernicious idea – that humans are only good through God (the lie that we have no innate, of humanistic morality) – you end up thinking everything of something that isn’t, and nothing of something that is. Falsely trying to outsource your moral sense; reducing a human to something that should just obey holy rules, without reflection. It may be no coincidence that America is the most religious developed country, and the main source of tragic and immoral behaviour.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
1 year ago
Reply to  Dominic A

The Mongols and their cousins did not have any problem killing and murdering those they conquered. They managed to kill 1+M in day and Gengis Khan probably slaughtered 40M.
The Aztecs sacrificed 80K in year.
Not many religions give any value to life outside of the tribe.

Dominic A
Dominic A
1 year ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

Yes, there is that! Religion also tells you that the voice in your head – be that, ‘help this poor person’, or ‘kill the heathens’, is God’s word (both sentiments are in the Holy books). Probably makes both acts a little easier – but even the postive act is lessened , if you think it was someone else’s idea.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
1 year ago
Reply to  Dominic A

If we look at periods of mass human migration, end of Bronze Age Middle East, Collapse of Western Roman Empire and nomad migration from 410 AD to Timur The Lame 1400 AD, communism and nazism, we can see that humans are easily capable mass slaughter . I would say the Abraham Faiths, Greek and Roman religions, Hinduism, Buddhism, Daoism, Confucianism limit the willingness to undertake mass slaughter and limit arbitrary acts of violence by ruler on ruled. Somethings better than nothing.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
1 year ago
Reply to  Dominic A

If we look at periods of mass human migration, end of Bronze Age Middle East, Collapse of Western Roman Empire and nomad migration from 410 AD to Timur The Lame 1400 AD, communism and nazism, we can see that humans are easily capable mass slaughter . I would say the Abraham Faiths, Greek and Roman religions, Hinduism, Buddhism, Daoism, Confucianism limit the willingness to undertake mass slaughter and limit arbitrary acts of violence by ruler on ruled. Somethings better than nothing.

Dominic A
Dominic A
1 year ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

Yes, there is that! Religion also tells you that the voice in your head – be that, ‘help this poor person’, or ‘kill the heathens’, is God’s word (both sentiments are in the Holy books). Probably makes both acts a little easier – but even the postive act is lessened , if you think it was someone else’s idea.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
1 year ago
Reply to  Dominic A

The Mongols and their cousins did not have any problem killing and murdering those they conquered. They managed to kill 1+M in day and Gengis Khan probably slaughtered 40M.
The Aztecs sacrificed 80K in year.
Not many religions give any value to life outside of the tribe.

B Davis
B Davis
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

In the absence of God…if there is no heaven, no hell, then everything is permissible and the only thing which separates A from B is the degree to which the choice fulfills my particular, of the moment, appetite.
The recognition that there is, indeed, an Absolute anchors every judgement in the Transcendent (however poorly we may understand it). It says there is that which is Morally Right and that which is Morally Wrong. It tells us there is something sacred beyond sheer mundane utility.
In fact Christian principles are indeed backed by God and it is through our efforts to understand and worship God that those principles you value have been created. Why would you believe such Faith to be retrograde….especially when every nation or culture founded on the absence of faith (Soviet Union / China both come to mind) have been characterized by nothing so much as bloody terror?

Dominic A
Dominic A
1 year ago
Reply to  B Davis

Your comment could usefully be used as an example in a Philosophy 101 class on logical fallacies.

B Davis
B Davis
1 year ago
Reply to  Dominic A

Undoubtedly….but probably not in the way you intend.

B Davis
B Davis
1 year ago
Reply to  Dominic A

Undoubtedly….but probably not in the way you intend.

Dominic A
Dominic A
1 year ago
Reply to  B Davis

Your comment could usefully be used as an example in a Philosophy 101 class on logical fallacies.

Michael McElwee
Michael McElwee
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

Are there particulars from which universals might be drawn? Isn’t that the question? Schopenhauer claims to have set Hume straight on it. Did he?

Last edited 1 year ago by Michael McElwee
Dominic A
Dominic A
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

I was listening this week to Sam Harris recounting a conversation with a leading American preacher who said that were it not for his faith in God, he’d have nothing to hold himself back from sin – killing, raping etc. He seemed to genuinely believe this. What a tragic, pernicious idea – that humans are only good through God (the lie that we have no innate, of humanistic morality) – you end up thinking everything of something that isn’t, and nothing of something that is. Falsely trying to outsource your moral sense; reducing a human to something that should just obey holy rules, without reflection. It may be no coincidence that America is the most religious developed country, and the main source of tragic and immoral behaviour.

B Davis
B Davis
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

In the absence of God…if there is no heaven, no hell, then everything is permissible and the only thing which separates A from B is the degree to which the choice fulfills my particular, of the moment, appetite.
The recognition that there is, indeed, an Absolute anchors every judgement in the Transcendent (however poorly we may understand it). It says there is that which is Morally Right and that which is Morally Wrong. It tells us there is something sacred beyond sheer mundane utility.
In fact Christian principles are indeed backed by God and it is through our efforts to understand and worship God that those principles you value have been created. Why would you believe such Faith to be retrograde….especially when every nation or culture founded on the absence of faith (Soviet Union / China both come to mind) have been characterized by nothing so much as bloody terror?

Emmanuel MARTIN
Emmanuel MARTIN
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve White

A deep and insightful answer, with which I profoundly agree

Christian Moon
Christian Moon
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve White

Not sure how natural to the feminine sensibility transcendent standards and principles really are. We are blessed instead to live in the triumph of feminism.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve White

Oh please, spare us the righteousness. I’d suggest to you that Lionel has transcendent standards that transcend the limitations of a world view based upon the premise that Christ was, or was related to, a deity. It’s the very failure of that deification that’s led to a change in mores, not because somehow humans are “fallen” (for goodness sake).
Christianity has some fine principles, there’s no doubt about that; but those principles have no objective backing by a non-existent god. Pretending otherwise is an utterly retrograde step for us all.

Emmanuel MARTIN
Emmanuel MARTIN
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve White

A deep and insightful answer, with which I profoundly agree

Steve White
Steve White
1 year ago

My problem with the author is this. She is lamenting the loss of prior standards, while at the same time never having her own worldview that would create those same standards. She wants shame to come back, but only for pragmatic reasons hollowed out of any meaning beyond their secular utility.
She laments the destructive and chaotic effects of sex unmoored from any universal standards, and yet argues for them only for cultural utility. Is masturbating hurting anyone else? Is her own husband denied intimacy for her self-focused indulgence? Who or what is she thinking of when she does this to herself? Is feeding that secret desire having no effect at all on her marriage relationship?  
I think what is missing there is motives, and desires of the heart are important too. It’s not simply our external actions, but Jesus got to the heart of the issue in the Sermon on the Mount. Character begins in the heart and mind, but really she has no interest in the transcendent objective standards that her parents raised her with, only the fruit of it, stripped of the universal truths that gives meaning to the particular fruits and actions.
This is sort of like the prodigal son who wanted the inheritance without the faither. He wanted the benefits and the good things without the true relationship, but he took that and simply used and squandered it, winding up with nothing and eating with pigs.
Lionel, you can’t have the particulars without the transcendent universal that gives meaning to the particulars. These are the basic philosophical categories, universals, and particulars we find in Platonism and Aristotelianism. There must be a universal objective reality giving meaning to the particulars of our finite subjective lives or else even the particulars we rely on will begin to lose their meaning, and as you have observed, chaos ensues. To be brief, you can’t have your previously more just and ordered society and ditch God. You can’t ditch the Christianity and it’s previously accepted standards, and still have the world function. It’s going to fall apart into something much darker. 

Aphrodite Rises
Aphrodite Rises
1 year ago

Those who decry a particular stigma generally use stigma as a weapon to defend their position and attack dissenters accusing those who disagree with them of being some kind of phobist or just an ist.

Last edited 1 year ago by Aphrodite Rises
Aphrodite Rises
Aphrodite Rises
1 year ago

Those who decry a particular stigma generally use stigma as a weapon to defend their position and attack dissenters accusing those who disagree with them of being some kind of phobist or just an ist.

Last edited 1 year ago by Aphrodite Rises
Greg Morrison
Greg Morrison
1 year ago

Interesting article. But it somewhat conflates two quite different forms of stigma: which I think can be classified as ‘moral’ and ‘the rest’ (aesthetic, health conscious, fashion conscious, etc). Moral stigma comes from a belief that something is immoral, and that therefore moral people ought to avoid it. ‘The rest’ come from various versions of opinion, which might be defended by recourse to reality, or common sense, or the use of reason, but are nonetheless an output of opinion. I suggest this conflation is unhelpful other than as a general commentary on the way that the anti-judgemental moral permissiveness of The West also has some rather bad effects when it is extrapolated into non-moral areas (aesthetics, health, fashion, etc). Now in fairness the author does make this commentary, and rather well. But the rather obvious corollary of showing that anti-judgemental permissiveness has harmful effects when it is used as a rule in these other areas, is that perhaps it was rather a bad rule in the sphere of morality, too. This trick, something of an open goal, the author missed. I suspect intentionally.

Incidentally, the stigma attached to m*sturbati*n may certainly have been expressed in post-puritan (usually protestant) societies as ‘puritanical discomfort with sexual pleasure’, but that is not at the root of the stigma, or the shame, or the moral prohibition: that has to do with continence and the ideal of chastity. This – somewhat obviously, I think – is also at the root of the ‘NoFap’ online movement: young men (both religious and not, apparently), dislike being controlled by their desires, rather than vice versa. That morality places these desires in a ‘proper’ environment (for example, with Christians, marriage) and defines what is outside the boundaries of this as ‘improper’ therefore stands to reason. And anyway, the clear history of large families in the Christian tradition (including Catholicism, Orthodoxy and Protestantism) suggests to me that the alleged ‘discomfort with sexual pleasure’ is just a rather silly slur.

Greg Morrison
Greg Morrison
1 year ago

Interesting article. But it somewhat conflates two quite different forms of stigma: which I think can be classified as ‘moral’ and ‘the rest’ (aesthetic, health conscious, fashion conscious, etc). Moral stigma comes from a belief that something is immoral, and that therefore moral people ought to avoid it. ‘The rest’ come from various versions of opinion, which might be defended by recourse to reality, or common sense, or the use of reason, but are nonetheless an output of opinion. I suggest this conflation is unhelpful other than as a general commentary on the way that the anti-judgemental moral permissiveness of The West also has some rather bad effects when it is extrapolated into non-moral areas (aesthetics, health, fashion, etc). Now in fairness the author does make this commentary, and rather well. But the rather obvious corollary of showing that anti-judgemental permissiveness has harmful effects when it is used as a rule in these other areas, is that perhaps it was rather a bad rule in the sphere of morality, too. This trick, something of an open goal, the author missed. I suspect intentionally.

Incidentally, the stigma attached to m*sturbati*n may certainly have been expressed in post-puritan (usually protestant) societies as ‘puritanical discomfort with sexual pleasure’, but that is not at the root of the stigma, or the shame, or the moral prohibition: that has to do with continence and the ideal of chastity. This – somewhat obviously, I think – is also at the root of the ‘NoFap’ online movement: young men (both religious and not, apparently), dislike being controlled by their desires, rather than vice versa. That morality places these desires in a ‘proper’ environment (for example, with Christians, marriage) and defines what is outside the boundaries of this as ‘improper’ therefore stands to reason. And anyway, the clear history of large families in the Christian tradition (including Catholicism, Orthodoxy and Protestantism) suggests to me that the alleged ‘discomfort with sexual pleasure’ is just a rather silly slur.

Jim R
Jim R
1 year ago

I have trouble seeing any “refusal to make judgments” – aren’t we just re-directing the stigma and deflecting it back through an inverted stigma? When we call out ‘fat-shaming’ – we are shaming the speaker and stigmatizing those who would advocate self discipline and healthy living. It’s a way of turning the tables – vice is virtuous and virtue is vice. But what happens when we weaken or eliminate all social forces that help to point us toward self discipline? Well – look around, the experiment has begun. I think we will find that the amount of misery, poverty, sloth, addiction, disease and anti-social behaviour will increase dramatically. Then who will we blame?

Jim R
Jim R
1 year ago

I have trouble seeing any “refusal to make judgments” – aren’t we just re-directing the stigma and deflecting it back through an inverted stigma? When we call out ‘fat-shaming’ – we are shaming the speaker and stigmatizing those who would advocate self discipline and healthy living. It’s a way of turning the tables – vice is virtuous and virtue is vice. But what happens when we weaken or eliminate all social forces that help to point us toward self discipline? Well – look around, the experiment has begun. I think we will find that the amount of misery, poverty, sloth, addiction, disease and anti-social behaviour will increase dramatically. Then who will we blame?

Douglas McNeish
Douglas McNeish
1 year ago

Good article. It is an interesting paradox that many of the same non-judgmental leftist civic leaders in places like San Francisco and Portland are ok with using the guilt gun to manipulate those who disagree with them, firing shots of label-shaming and cancellation to silence them.

Douglas McNeish
Douglas McNeish
1 year ago

Good article. It is an interesting paradox that many of the same non-judgmental leftist civic leaders in places like San Francisco and Portland are ok with using the guilt gun to manipulate those who disagree with them, firing shots of label-shaming and cancellation to silence them.

Malcolm Knott
Malcolm Knott
1 year ago

Criminals have been using destigmatisation for centuries under the rubric, ‘Everyone does it.’

Malcolm Knott
Malcolm Knott
1 year ago

Criminals have been using destigmatisation for centuries under the rubric, ‘Everyone does it.’

Daniel Lee
Daniel Lee
1 year ago

It was probably inevitable that over-valorizing “judge not lest ye be judged” would create a downward spiral of self-congratulatory indulgence of ever more horrific behavior. We must be close to the bottom point at which mass revulsion of what we’ve talked ourselves into accepting prompts a very unpleasant and possibly violent backlash.

Daniel Lee
Daniel Lee
1 year ago

It was probably inevitable that over-valorizing “judge not lest ye be judged” would create a downward spiral of self-congratulatory indulgence of ever more horrific behavior. We must be close to the bottom point at which mass revulsion of what we’ve talked ourselves into accepting prompts a very unpleasant and possibly violent backlash.

Sam Brown
Sam Brown
1 year ago

What was wrong with calling a spade a spade, other than the WOKE obvious? THE truth has been subsumed into MY truth and as a result we are losing a grip on reality. We have got to turn this tide of increasing madness and prioritise logic and reason not feelings.

Sam Brown
Sam Brown
1 year ago

What was wrong with calling a spade a spade, other than the WOKE obvious? THE truth has been subsumed into MY truth and as a result we are losing a grip on reality. We have got to turn this tide of increasing madness and prioritise logic and reason not feelings.

Nic Cowper
Nic Cowper
1 year ago

Fabulous article Lionel, love this one line referring to absolution of fault: “distances people from their own decisions and deprives them of agency. ” Correct – self determination is what makes us humans. In a brutal sense this is survival of the fittest. I personally do not understand why society would shield people from their own failure to take the necessary steps to survive
You are right to point out the schism between this “mindless moral neutrality”  and the diabolical shaming of a small section of individuals for being strong enough not to accept “vaccinations”. However I would have enjoyed your eloquence referring to my experience (hearing friends and family wish death upon me, being denied travel etc) without knowing that you were triple vaxxed. Was that addendum a reflection of your potential perceived shaming? 
I and those like me are deeply sorry for all of you who fell for government and media (MSM) lies and coercion to go and get three + shots. You were hoodwinked, tricked, hypnotised by government and big pharma – it is not entirely your fault. But please remember for next time, because there will be a next time.
Self determination, ladies and gentlemen, is a thing more people should believe in. Agency and the power to affect your own outcomes is not a thing that should be discouraged in society.

Iris Violet
Iris Violet
1 year ago
Reply to  Nic Cowper

Well said Nic.

Bruce V
Bruce V
1 year ago
Reply to  Nic Cowper

“why society would shield people from their own failure” Good point. The only thing I can think of is that todays society with technology, free goodies from governments, and other taken-for-granted comforts physically permits it by largely shielding people from their “own failures”. In days past your own failures had a much more direct impact on your ability to find food and shelter. That in turn, on average, made for a much sturdier human.

Iris Violet
Iris Violet
1 year ago
Reply to  Nic Cowper

Well said Nic.

Bruce V
Bruce V
1 year ago
Reply to  Nic Cowper

“why society would shield people from their own failure” Good point. The only thing I can think of is that todays society with technology, free goodies from governments, and other taken-for-granted comforts physically permits it by largely shielding people from their “own failures”. In days past your own failures had a much more direct impact on your ability to find food and shelter. That in turn, on average, made for a much sturdier human.

Nic Cowper
Nic Cowper
1 year ago

Fabulous article Lionel, love this one line referring to absolution of fault: “distances people from their own decisions and deprives them of agency. ” Correct – self determination is what makes us humans. In a brutal sense this is survival of the fittest. I personally do not understand why society would shield people from their own failure to take the necessary steps to survive
You are right to point out the schism between this “mindless moral neutrality”  and the diabolical shaming of a small section of individuals for being strong enough not to accept “vaccinations”. However I would have enjoyed your eloquence referring to my experience (hearing friends and family wish death upon me, being denied travel etc) without knowing that you were triple vaxxed. Was that addendum a reflection of your potential perceived shaming? 
I and those like me are deeply sorry for all of you who fell for government and media (MSM) lies and coercion to go and get three + shots. You were hoodwinked, tricked, hypnotised by government and big pharma – it is not entirely your fault. But please remember for next time, because there will be a next time.
Self determination, ladies and gentlemen, is a thing more people should believe in. Agency and the power to affect your own outcomes is not a thing that should be discouraged in society.

AC Harper
AC Harper
1 year ago

An excellent and penetrating article.
You could argue that “…an accelerating, positively demented refusal to make judgments.” is, in fact, quite Biblical. Judge not lest you be judged.
Some people are so frightened of social disapproval, stigma, that they are willing to throw all social judgements under the bus in case they are applied to themselves at some point. To be fair there are so many people living in close proximity and so connected through vicious social media that avoiding stigma is a full time activity (and quite distanced from any consequences). Signalling virtue and social status are deeply connected to successfully living in a society.
The trick is, I think, to let the pendulum swing back from extreme individualism towards a kind collectivism but not as far as extreme collectivism. Good luck with that.

PAUL NATHANSON
PAUL NATHANSON
1 year ago
Reply to  AC Harper

“Signalling virtue and social status are deeply connected to successfully living in a society.”
Yes, but there’s a big difference between virtue and signaling virtue–that is, between righteousness and self-righteousness. The former is an ideal, the latter a form of hypocrisy now known as wokism.
And the Bible has a lot to say about hypocrisy. Jesus repeatedly attacked the outwardly pious but inwardly corrupt as “whited sepulchers.” But I think that the problem is not merely self-righteous dishonesty. Worse than that is self-righteous divisiveness. The targets, who merely disagree with some prevailing orthodoxy, don’t react well to being ridiculed or shamed, which is therefore a recipe for the polarization of society.

Wilfred Davis
Wilfred Davis
1 year ago
Reply to  AC Harper

About ‘judge not, lest ye be judged’.

I also feel that a reluctance to criticise others often stems from the need to escape criticism for one’s own failings.

One charming aspect of the woke approach, though, is the marvellous licence it affords for shrill condemnation of others. In other words, the (unperceived) paradox of saying ‘I publicly criticise you for criticising him, when we all know that criticising people is evil.’

And they think this signals their logic and their virtue.

PAUL NATHANSON
PAUL NATHANSON
1 year ago
Reply to  AC Harper

“Signalling virtue and social status are deeply connected to successfully living in a society.”
Yes, but there’s a big difference between virtue and signaling virtue–that is, between righteousness and self-righteousness. The former is an ideal, the latter a form of hypocrisy now known as wokism.
And the Bible has a lot to say about hypocrisy. Jesus repeatedly attacked the outwardly pious but inwardly corrupt as “whited sepulchers.” But I think that the problem is not merely self-righteous dishonesty. Worse than that is self-righteous divisiveness. The targets, who merely disagree with some prevailing orthodoxy, don’t react well to being ridiculed or shamed, which is therefore a recipe for the polarization of society.

Wilfred Davis
Wilfred Davis
1 year ago
Reply to  AC Harper

About ‘judge not, lest ye be judged’.

I also feel that a reluctance to criticise others often stems from the need to escape criticism for one’s own failings.

One charming aspect of the woke approach, though, is the marvellous licence it affords for shrill condemnation of others. In other words, the (unperceived) paradox of saying ‘I publicly criticise you for criticising him, when we all know that criticising people is evil.’

And they think this signals their logic and their virtue.

AC Harper
AC Harper
1 year ago

An excellent and penetrating article.
You could argue that “…an accelerating, positively demented refusal to make judgments.” is, in fact, quite Biblical. Judge not lest you be judged.
Some people are so frightened of social disapproval, stigma, that they are willing to throw all social judgements under the bus in case they are applied to themselves at some point. To be fair there are so many people living in close proximity and so connected through vicious social media that avoiding stigma is a full time activity (and quite distanced from any consequences). Signalling virtue and social status are deeply connected to successfully living in a society.
The trick is, I think, to let the pendulum swing back from extreme individualism towards a kind collectivism but not as far as extreme collectivism. Good luck with that.

Alka Hughes-Hallett
Alka Hughes-Hallett
1 year ago

We are evolutionary beings. Our prehistoric ancestors could not have survived if they were obese, and thereby immobile, or highly dependent on other human beings in any way. Our genes demand that we be able to survive in a harsh environment, we are equipped both mentally and physically for it.
The problem seem to appear when we live in societies that makes rules based on the limit of our intellect. It does not feel natural to be obese, to mutilate your body excessively, even to steal just as it does not feel natural to want to accumulate excessive wealth.
When we form societies that sanctify marriages as the only healthy and acceptable physical relationship , the balance comes from prostitution and promiscuous behaviours of all types. It’s not ideal but understandable that societies make rules and sometimes those rules can be incredibly limiting and we get people who cannot conform for one reason or another and are shunted to the margins.
The solution possibly can be to keep as balanced as possible, and understand why such failures have & will always exist.
This is our society, these are our people and our problems. Perhaps too much tolerance doesn’t help, but neither does lack of tolerance. Murder is inexcusable but it is inevitable in a territorial society, like wars justify murder and all sorts of inexcusable acts of aggression.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago

“solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant”,* as the British Chieftain Calgacus said, according to Tacitus.

(*’They” make a desert and call it PEACE.)

Jonny Stud
Jonny Stud
1 year ago

modernised to ‘they make a dessert, and call it peace’?

Jonny Stud
Jonny Stud
1 year ago

modernised to ‘they make a dessert, and call it peace’?

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago

“solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant”,* as the British Chieftain Calgacus said, according to Tacitus.

(*’They” make a desert and call it PEACE.)

Alka Hughes-Hallett
Alka Hughes-Hallett
1 year ago

We are evolutionary beings. Our prehistoric ancestors could not have survived if they were obese, and thereby immobile, or highly dependent on other human beings in any way. Our genes demand that we be able to survive in a harsh environment, we are equipped both mentally and physically for it.
The problem seem to appear when we live in societies that makes rules based on the limit of our intellect. It does not feel natural to be obese, to mutilate your body excessively, even to steal just as it does not feel natural to want to accumulate excessive wealth.
When we form societies that sanctify marriages as the only healthy and acceptable physical relationship , the balance comes from prostitution and promiscuous behaviours of all types. It’s not ideal but understandable that societies make rules and sometimes those rules can be incredibly limiting and we get people who cannot conform for one reason or another and are shunted to the margins.
The solution possibly can be to keep as balanced as possible, and understand why such failures have & will always exist.
This is our society, these are our people and our problems. Perhaps too much tolerance doesn’t help, but neither does lack of tolerance. Murder is inexcusable but it is inevitable in a territorial society, like wars justify murder and all sorts of inexcusable acts of aggression.

Lennon Ó Náraigh
Lennon Ó Náraigh
1 year ago

Stigma is a very useful thing indeed, if not taken too far. It is a way of promoting, or even enforcing, pro-social behaviours, without having to bring in the coercive power of the state.

Lennon Ó Náraigh
Lennon Ó Náraigh
1 year ago

Stigma is a very useful thing indeed, if not taken too far. It is a way of promoting, or even enforcing, pro-social behaviours, without having to bring in the coercive power of the state.

B Davis
B Davis
1 year ago

Stigma is a powerful force, yes. And yes, there is a place for stigma. But let us push this consideration just a small step further.
Stigma comes from Standards…the faith that there is a Right & Wrong, Good & Bad. And Standards themselves are derived from Absolutes. which are, of course, the bane of the Progressive Post-Modernist for whom the only ‘absolute’ is ‘Feels Good’.
If it feels good — Do It! Love the one you’re with…have a little Afternoon Delight…in the Back of My Chevy Van….vouler vous couchez avec moi, c’est soir… but will you still love me tomorrow…and, whatever you do, don’t blame it on me!
Ms.Shriver tells us that “On balance, all these historically recent permissions probably make life better”. Probably. Maybe. Possibly? But do they? Or do they simply make life easier, less cumbersome….lighter (as Kundera might say)??
Stigma dies when Standards die…and Standards die when Absolutes are shattered. In a world absent Truth or any sense that there is a God and thereby a hard line between Right & Wrong… In a world empty of Sin in which every act is simply self-expression struggling for acceptance in an Oppressively Heteronormative Racist Sexist Transphobic Nightmare of an Existence: “a little time of which the passing might be made endurable; beyond gaped unpredictable darkness: and that was all there was of certainty anywhere.”… how do these emergent permissions make it all better?
She tells us, that in this brave, new world, “Men and women aren’t stuck married to spouses they detest.” And this is true. But marriage is not a thing which happens to people; it’s not like the downpour which turns roads into seas of mud in which, quite literally, the unwary do indeed get ‘stuck’. Marriage is created as commitment & promise by the very same two people who now ‘feelz’ inextricably mired. Dissolution of the Covenant seems a solution, I suppose…but the non-stigmatized freedom to break covenants hardly seems like a better place to be…nor can we truly say that our ‘post-birthday world’ (to borrow a phrase!). given the moral normalization of divorce, is indeed a better one.
“Having been around the sexual block meant that when I hooked up with my husband, I knew we were a good fit.” Lionel, I don’t buy that. Perhaps it felt like that, but however deep our sexual resume may be it tells us nothing about love or marriage…and whatever it tells us about ‘sexual fit’ we knew before our underwear hit the floor. Sexual fit is a given, given love. And, as your Mother knew, sex in the absence of love is just itch-scratching.
As for masturbation (“Don’t knock it — it’s sex with someone you love.”) the reason we feel that lingering, residual sheepishness is not really so much the ‘puritanical discomfort with pleasure’ but rather our own discomfort with the superficiality of an experience which is only pleasure. And though that passing frisson feels passingly ecstatic, we also recognize in that thrill the Oblomovian temptation that self-indulgent pleasure represents. (After all, it feels good, doesn’t it??? Why not do it MORE!)
In the end, she agrees, ‘stigma isn’t always bad’. Indeed.
But let us go that one step further and embrace the fact that stigma, by and large, is not just ‘not bad’, it’s good. And it’s good because it is the consequence of Sin… the consequence of willfully wrong misbehavior as measured by Standards derived from our understanding of the Absolute.
We feel bad about meaningless sex because — it’s meaningless….because it cheapens what is most sacred….because it separates love from the act which should be most emblematic of love.
We recognize beauty because — it’s beautiful. And because, like Keats, we link our glimpse of that transcendent beauty (whether it is in a face or a sunset or some marble shaped by Bernini) with the Divine. Beauty resonates within us ineluctably, regardless of how much we may pretend that ‘Everything is beautiful in its own way’.
“Stigma has its place”…Ms. Shriver tells us, if only to ‘make the country more liveable.’ But efficiency and national livability is not why Stigma is important. It’s important because it is the natural human consequence of wrong acts….of behaviors which violate our moral sense of what is Right and what is Wrong. We feel revulsion because what we are considering is revolting, in the truest sense of the word.
And the problem, in the here & now, is when we cruelly & wrongly attach false and arbitrary ‘stigma’ (like ‘cancellation’) to whatever behaviors we wish to discourage, like being UnWoke, we betray ourselves…and commit the very act that Stigma is designed to discourage and prevent.

B Davis
B Davis
1 year ago

Stigma is a powerful force, yes. And yes, there is a place for stigma. But let us push this consideration just a small step further.
Stigma comes from Standards…the faith that there is a Right & Wrong, Good & Bad. And Standards themselves are derived from Absolutes. which are, of course, the bane of the Progressive Post-Modernist for whom the only ‘absolute’ is ‘Feels Good’.
If it feels good — Do It! Love the one you’re with…have a little Afternoon Delight…in the Back of My Chevy Van….vouler vous couchez avec moi, c’est soir… but will you still love me tomorrow…and, whatever you do, don’t blame it on me!
Ms.Shriver tells us that “On balance, all these historically recent permissions probably make life better”. Probably. Maybe. Possibly? But do they? Or do they simply make life easier, less cumbersome….lighter (as Kundera might say)??
Stigma dies when Standards die…and Standards die when Absolutes are shattered. In a world absent Truth or any sense that there is a God and thereby a hard line between Right & Wrong… In a world empty of Sin in which every act is simply self-expression struggling for acceptance in an Oppressively Heteronormative Racist Sexist Transphobic Nightmare of an Existence: “a little time of which the passing might be made endurable; beyond gaped unpredictable darkness: and that was all there was of certainty anywhere.”… how do these emergent permissions make it all better?
She tells us, that in this brave, new world, “Men and women aren’t stuck married to spouses they detest.” And this is true. But marriage is not a thing which happens to people; it’s not like the downpour which turns roads into seas of mud in which, quite literally, the unwary do indeed get ‘stuck’. Marriage is created as commitment & promise by the very same two people who now ‘feelz’ inextricably mired. Dissolution of the Covenant seems a solution, I suppose…but the non-stigmatized freedom to break covenants hardly seems like a better place to be…nor can we truly say that our ‘post-birthday world’ (to borrow a phrase!). given the moral normalization of divorce, is indeed a better one.
“Having been around the sexual block meant that when I hooked up with my husband, I knew we were a good fit.” Lionel, I don’t buy that. Perhaps it felt like that, but however deep our sexual resume may be it tells us nothing about love or marriage…and whatever it tells us about ‘sexual fit’ we knew before our underwear hit the floor. Sexual fit is a given, given love. And, as your Mother knew, sex in the absence of love is just itch-scratching.
As for masturbation (“Don’t knock it — it’s sex with someone you love.”) the reason we feel that lingering, residual sheepishness is not really so much the ‘puritanical discomfort with pleasure’ but rather our own discomfort with the superficiality of an experience which is only pleasure. And though that passing frisson feels passingly ecstatic, we also recognize in that thrill the Oblomovian temptation that self-indulgent pleasure represents. (After all, it feels good, doesn’t it??? Why not do it MORE!)
In the end, she agrees, ‘stigma isn’t always bad’. Indeed.
But let us go that one step further and embrace the fact that stigma, by and large, is not just ‘not bad’, it’s good. And it’s good because it is the consequence of Sin… the consequence of willfully wrong misbehavior as measured by Standards derived from our understanding of the Absolute.
We feel bad about meaningless sex because — it’s meaningless….because it cheapens what is most sacred….because it separates love from the act which should be most emblematic of love.
We recognize beauty because — it’s beautiful. And because, like Keats, we link our glimpse of that transcendent beauty (whether it is in a face or a sunset or some marble shaped by Bernini) with the Divine. Beauty resonates within us ineluctably, regardless of how much we may pretend that ‘Everything is beautiful in its own way’.
“Stigma has its place”…Ms. Shriver tells us, if only to ‘make the country more liveable.’ But efficiency and national livability is not why Stigma is important. It’s important because it is the natural human consequence of wrong acts….of behaviors which violate our moral sense of what is Right and what is Wrong. We feel revulsion because what we are considering is revolting, in the truest sense of the word.
And the problem, in the here & now, is when we cruelly & wrongly attach false and arbitrary ‘stigma’ (like ‘cancellation’) to whatever behaviors we wish to discourage, like being UnWoke, we betray ourselves…and commit the very act that Stigma is designed to discourage and prevent.

j watson
j watson
1 year ago

Author is right – stigma, or rather some shame or disgrace associated with a form of behaviour, has an essential role in any society. This is the first question and suggestions there is no role for disgrace/shame must be resisted.
We can still be kind and supportive though – even if it’s tax dodging (we can offer structured repayment models!).
The second question is – do we generally agree about the behaviours that should generate some shame/disgrace? One suspects we would coalesce around a significant core, but at the margins there will always be dispute and somethings moving in and out. That’s healthy isn’t it?.
I referred to tax dodging deliberately in first para. For some that’s not a disgraceful behaviour that should be more stigmatised for others it is. Which behaviours do us the most collective damage might be quite a debate. I suspect the morbidly obese wouldn’t be close to the top of such a list.

j watson
j watson
1 year ago

Author is right – stigma, or rather some shame or disgrace associated with a form of behaviour, has an essential role in any society. This is the first question and suggestions there is no role for disgrace/shame must be resisted.
We can still be kind and supportive though – even if it’s tax dodging (we can offer structured repayment models!).
The second question is – do we generally agree about the behaviours that should generate some shame/disgrace? One suspects we would coalesce around a significant core, but at the margins there will always be dispute and somethings moving in and out. That’s healthy isn’t it?.
I referred to tax dodging deliberately in first para. For some that’s not a disgraceful behaviour that should be more stigmatised for others it is. Which behaviours do us the most collective damage might be quite a debate. I suspect the morbidly obese wouldn’t be close to the top of such a list.

John Riordan
John Riordan
1 year ago

Masterful analysis, absolutely brilliant. I was about to dive in on the matter of the aesthetic relativism of the fat acceptance movement at one point, but a couple of paragraphs down the author did so anyway, to which I’ll add my agreement: it is not only technically infeasible to redefine aesthetic senses through activist-driven cultural change, it is in any case pointless, because all it will do is place a new type of appearance at the bottom of the pecking order. The pecking order itself will still be there, and it will still be a judgment system relating to things that people mostly cannot change.

That might make quite a good movie actually: a world where fat acceptance was so successful that the most beautiful people are the fattest, and diet tips are how to eat 6000 calories a day and to avoid strenuous exercise at all costs. It would have to be a comedy obviously, but in the event that anyone tries to make a serious version, I predict everyone will still be laughing at it anyway.

Last edited 1 year ago by John Riordan
John Riordan
John Riordan
1 year ago

Masterful analysis, absolutely brilliant. I was about to dive in on the matter of the aesthetic relativism of the fat acceptance movement at one point, but a couple of paragraphs down the author did so anyway, to which I’ll add my agreement: it is not only technically infeasible to redefine aesthetic senses through activist-driven cultural change, it is in any case pointless, because all it will do is place a new type of appearance at the bottom of the pecking order. The pecking order itself will still be there, and it will still be a judgment system relating to things that people mostly cannot change.

That might make quite a good movie actually: a world where fat acceptance was so successful that the most beautiful people are the fattest, and diet tips are how to eat 6000 calories a day and to avoid strenuous exercise at all costs. It would have to be a comedy obviously, but in the event that anyone tries to make a serious version, I predict everyone will still be laughing at it anyway.

Last edited 1 year ago by John Riordan
Cynthia W.
Cynthia W.
1 year ago

The author seems to be saying that “stigma” should attach to behaviors she doesn’t do and circumstances she is not in. An actual principle would be more persuasive.

She tried to make “cost to society” the principle, but couldn’t be consistent. “Children in care” have a cost in public funds and personal misery just like obese people in hospitals or drug addicts on the streets.

Cynthia W.
Cynthia W.
1 year ago

The author seems to be saying that “stigma” should attach to behaviors she doesn’t do and circumstances she is not in. An actual principle would be more persuasive.

She tried to make “cost to society” the principle, but couldn’t be consistent. “Children in care” have a cost in public funds and personal misery just like obese people in hospitals or drug addicts on the streets.

nigel roberts
nigel roberts
1 year ago

As the historian Gertrude Himmelfarb observed more than a decade ago, 
“What was once stigmatized as deviant behavior is now tolerated and even sanctioned; what was once regarded as abnormal has been normalized.”
But even more importantly, she added, 
“As deviancy is normalized, so what was once normal becomes deviant. The kind of family that has been regarded for centuries as natural and moral – the ‘bourgeois’ family as it is invidiously called – is now seen as pathological and exclusionary, concealing the worst forms of psychic and physical oppression.” 

nigel roberts
nigel roberts
1 year ago

As the historian Gertrude Himmelfarb observed more than a decade ago, 
“What was once stigmatized as deviant behavior is now tolerated and even sanctioned; what was once regarded as abnormal has been normalized.”
But even more importantly, she added, 
“As deviancy is normalized, so what was once normal becomes deviant. The kind of family that has been regarded for centuries as natural and moral – the ‘bourgeois’ family as it is invidiously called – is now seen as pathological and exclusionary, concealing the worst forms of psychic and physical oppression.” 

Christian Moon
Christian Moon
1 year ago

When LS draws on her own experience to recommend the contemporary sexual settlement, it’s worth noticing that the marriage she celebrates was entered into when she was 45 years old or so (b.1957, m.2003). I worry that she may have rather missed the point.

Christian Moon
Christian Moon
1 year ago

When LS draws on her own experience to recommend the contemporary sexual settlement, it’s worth noticing that the marriage she celebrates was entered into when she was 45 years old or so (b.1957, m.2003). I worry that she may have rather missed the point.

Frank McCusker
Frank McCusker
1 year ago

Good article. I’m all for fat shaming; it saves lives.
When, a few years ago, I went from 13 to 17 stones during my 4 years 160 mile round trip daily commute to an office (toxic lifestyle – up at 6 am or earlier, no / minimal breakfast, rubbish coffee “lunch” on the run, 5 hours round trip drive daily, home c 9pm, later dinner, etc), of course no young person would mention that my power to weight ratio had gone backwards.
No such niceties from old family friends, older folk, friends of my late parents:
“Good God man! You’re looking prosperous! Herself feeding you well, I see, ho ho!” etc etc
And I found it very useful. As is the way when you gain weight, if you’re a bloke, you don’t realise it. Blokes tend to have reverse body dysmorphia, in that we see ourselves as being better than we are lol. 
But a few friendly OAP insults later, and you think, after the initial disbelief, “hmm, maybe the plain-talking older generation have a point lol”.
And that kick-starts you into doing something about it.

Last edited 1 year ago by Frank McCusker
CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago
Reply to  Frank McCusker

What do you weigh now may I ask?

Chris W
Chris W
1 year ago
Reply to  Frank McCusker

Yes, a good point about ‘blokes’. My wife has two words for obesity. For strangers she says, ‘Fat’ but for friends and family she says, ‘Big’. If I get them mixed up I’m being nasty.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris W

I think the Irish have a splendid word :HEFTY!
I’m rather surprised McCusker didn’t use it.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris W

I think the Irish have a splendid word :HEFTY!
I’m rather surprised McCusker didn’t use it.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago
Reply to  Frank McCusker

What do you weigh now may I ask?

Chris W
Chris W
1 year ago
Reply to  Frank McCusker

Yes, a good point about ‘blokes’. My wife has two words for obesity. For strangers she says, ‘Fat’ but for friends and family she says, ‘Big’. If I get them mixed up I’m being nasty.

Frank McCusker
Frank McCusker
1 year ago

Good article. I’m all for fat shaming; it saves lives.
When, a few years ago, I went from 13 to 17 stones during my 4 years 160 mile round trip daily commute to an office (toxic lifestyle – up at 6 am or earlier, no / minimal breakfast, rubbish coffee “lunch” on the run, 5 hours round trip drive daily, home c 9pm, later dinner, etc), of course no young person would mention that my power to weight ratio had gone backwards.
No such niceties from old family friends, older folk, friends of my late parents:
“Good God man! You’re looking prosperous! Herself feeding you well, I see, ho ho!” etc etc
And I found it very useful. As is the way when you gain weight, if you’re a bloke, you don’t realise it. Blokes tend to have reverse body dysmorphia, in that we see ourselves as being better than we are lol. 
But a few friendly OAP insults later, and you think, after the initial disbelief, “hmm, maybe the plain-talking older generation have a point lol”.
And that kick-starts you into doing something about it.

Last edited 1 year ago by Frank McCusker
Jonny Stud
Jonny Stud
1 year ago

I find it bizarre that stigmatising obesity – regardless of the cause, something entirely within each of our abilities to change- is wrong in modern society yet stigmatising the height of any man under 6′ tall (and christ, lets hope you’re not 5’7″ or 5’8″!) is perfectly acceptable yet limited by a genetic lottery………
As for ‘sex work is real work’….well lets see your tax returns then.

B Davis
B Davis
1 year ago
Reply to  Jonny Stud

Good example.
What about stigmatizing ugliness…not just the lack of beauty but the presence of the actively discomfiting….the snaggled teeth, the unsymmetric face, the scarred cheeks, the fat lips (though strangely that seems to have migrated, for some, into the ‘beautiful’ camp)?
It’s illegal, unconstitutional, and roundly considered to be seriously morally wrong to refuse to hire someone because they’re of a certain color or gender…. frowned upon, but not illegal, to refuse hiring the obese….and ignored completely the prejudicial hiring of the beautiful.

B Davis
B Davis
1 year ago
Reply to  Jonny Stud

Good example.
What about stigmatizing ugliness…not just the lack of beauty but the presence of the actively discomfiting….the snaggled teeth, the unsymmetric face, the scarred cheeks, the fat lips (though strangely that seems to have migrated, for some, into the ‘beautiful’ camp)?
It’s illegal, unconstitutional, and roundly considered to be seriously morally wrong to refuse to hire someone because they’re of a certain color or gender…. frowned upon, but not illegal, to refuse hiring the obese….and ignored completely the prejudicial hiring of the beautiful.

Jonny Stud
Jonny Stud
1 year ago

I find it bizarre that stigmatising obesity – regardless of the cause, something entirely within each of our abilities to change- is wrong in modern society yet stigmatising the height of any man under 6′ tall (and christ, lets hope you’re not 5’7″ or 5’8″!) is perfectly acceptable yet limited by a genetic lottery………
As for ‘sex work is real work’….well lets see your tax returns then.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 year ago

What a strong, well-made case, in Lionel Shriver’s highest good-humored and fairminded style. And what a notable contrast between the clickbait headline “Western Society Is Built On Stigma” and her actual boiled-down argument: “Stigma has its place [but] some stigma is still both poisonous and unjustified”.
I was all set to find grotesque overreach, but instead found myself on another thoughtful and worthwhile Shriver-piloted journey. Given her personal investment and topical insights, I’d like to read her novel Big Brother, though it will have to follow a growing shortlist of books I’ve already bought and must read (or at least try to and sell back, donate, or recycle) before buying more.
“Is sex work the right path for your child? Attend our parent-child seminar and decide as a family!”. In Defense of Looting…wow. What version of a deluded progressive or rabid libertarian/anarchist would you need to be to think this represents an improvement?

Rob N
Rob N
1 year ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

No sort of libertarian could support looting. Libertarians believe in the freedom to do what you want as long as as it does not directly impact another without their consent.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 year ago
Reply to  Rob N

So a libertarian-anarchist–I’m told they exist and have encountered self-professed examples at Reason.com–would never, could never support forcibly seizing the perceived ill-gotten gains of corporations or larcenous individuals?
You’ve given the fundamental, JS Mill definition of the philosophy or “ism” but there are other branches now. Anarchism bears a more clear association with looting or vandalism though.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 year ago
Reply to  Rob N

So a libertarian-anarchist–I’m told they exist and have encountered self-professed examples at Reason.com–would never, could never support forcibly seizing the perceived ill-gotten gains of corporations or larcenous individuals?
You’ve given the fundamental, JS Mill definition of the philosophy or “ism” but there are other branches now. Anarchism bears a more clear association with looting or vandalism though.

Rob N
Rob N
1 year ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

No sort of libertarian could support looting. Libertarians believe in the freedom to do what you want as long as as it does not directly impact another without their consent.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 year ago

What a strong, well-made case, in Lionel Shriver’s highest good-humored and fairminded style. And what a notable contrast between the clickbait headline “Western Society Is Built On Stigma” and her actual boiled-down argument: “Stigma has its place [but] some stigma is still both poisonous and unjustified”.
I was all set to find grotesque overreach, but instead found myself on another thoughtful and worthwhile Shriver-piloted journey. Given her personal investment and topical insights, I’d like to read her novel Big Brother, though it will have to follow a growing shortlist of books I’ve already bought and must read (or at least try to and sell back, donate, or recycle) before buying more.
“Is sex work the right path for your child? Attend our parent-child seminar and decide as a family!”. In Defense of Looting…wow. What version of a deluded progressive or rabid libertarian/anarchist would you need to be to think this represents an improvement?

Roddy Campbell
Roddy Campbell
1 year ago

Nature abhors a vacuum. Stigma against behaviour that we know doesn’t make the world a better place has been replaced by stigma against today’s New Blasphemy. Saying a bloke in a wig isn’t a woman; that fat is unhealthy and unattractive; that Afro Caribbeans do worse than Africans.

And so on. We’re as critical as ever. But our criticism has turn into witch-hunt against some pretty innocuous speech, rather at being usefully deployed to discourage people from making bad choices.

Roddy Campbell
Roddy Campbell
1 year ago

Nature abhors a vacuum. Stigma against behaviour that we know doesn’t make the world a better place has been replaced by stigma against today’s New Blasphemy. Saying a bloke in a wig isn’t a woman; that fat is unhealthy and unattractive; that Afro Caribbeans do worse than Africans.

And so on. We’re as critical as ever. But our criticism has turn into witch-hunt against some pretty innocuous speech, rather at being usefully deployed to discourage people from making bad choices.

Simon South
Simon South
1 year ago

This is missing the point completely! When someone become clinically or morbidly obese it is very often because food has become an emotional crutch, food is their comfort and reassurance. I myself underwent a gastric sleeve operation a year ago because I was clinically obese.

So many people don’t understand the downward spiral a destructive relationship with food, triggered by depression, low self esteem or insecurity can create. Everyone seems to be under the apprehension that to shout “just eat less” is the answer ( including many doctors). However, would you simply tell an alcoholic to ” just stop drinking” or a drug addict to ” just stop”. No!

I believe society contributes hugely in creating addictions through a failure to identify economic/social trigger points or mental and emotional turmoil or through the constant projection of a utopian consumerist driven existance that for many is unachievable, while media projects the perceived right for immediate gratification of your every desire. And yet when people are deeply scared or emotionally damaged, it fails to offer the appropriate support, they are left as collateral damage of the consumerist dream. Drug addicts are “maintained” on a stabilising dose of methadone , not cured, alcoholics rely on AA or similar charitable organisations and food addicts are told to diet!

There is, (and rightly so), a need for personal ownership of your own reality, however, as any recovering addict will tell you there has to be a bottoming out and a realisation that things need to change before this can happen . Simply following the old colonial British approach of shouting louder and louder at ‘a foreigner’ in English to make them understand is futile, the same is true for those who suffer with addiction.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
1 year ago
Reply to  Simon South

I think you’ve missed the point of the article. Nobody is saying you shouldn’t have sympathy for the obese, addicts or alcoholics. Most as you say use their addictions as a crutch and do require help to turn their situation around, but that doesn’t mean we should accept their behaviour as normal

M Harries
M Harries
1 year ago
Reply to  Simon South

After 60 years of smoking, my father quit cold turkey. Well done, he!

Addiction is a psychological / physiological / habitual / discipline issue.

What about our duty to our brotherhood and sisterhood taxpayers? Is it right that we take measures to not minimalise our need for demanding resources from our communal health system? Shouldn’t we feel guilty about gratuitously using NHS services?

Isn’t someone who takes the lift, rather than using the stairs, effectively perpetrating a micro aggression against society’s taxpayers who fund the NHS? Perhaps not, if one subsequently does 10 minutes on the exercycle at some point later in the day 
 as a penance at least?

But someone is more socially responsible, more morally pure, if one both takes the stairs AND uses the Exercycle. Shouldn’t I be on the Exercycle NOW, instead of writing this response? What cost this sense of permanent guilt and anxiety?

Right, I’m off to walk the dogs
 that’s one last virtue-signal before finishing. Yes, I will also inform the planet of my good intentions via Twitter and Facebook. I hope I get lots of ‘likes’, otherwise it will ruin my day!

Iris Violet
Iris Violet
1 year ago
Reply to  Simon South

Thank you for sharing and well done for getting on top of your weight and food addiction. I don’t think anyone denies that there is an emotional and/or psychological issue behind overeating. Lionel has experienced this close to hand with her brother who sadly did not manage to escape his obesity.

But, are we as a society all responsible then for everyone else’s emotional well-being and the choices they make as a result, possibly turning into addiction and poor life quality? Are we somehow to make everyone happy?

Perhaps, knowing that it is really only that particular person that can make himself happy, we should focus on teaching our children the skill of being content and happy in themselves.

Last edited 1 year ago by Iris Violet
John Dee
John Dee
1 year ago
Reply to  Simon South

‘Society’ has certainly contributed to the obesity epidemic. Telling people to avoid fats and eat lots of carbohydrates has merely replaced any fat-induced heart attacks with diabetes and obesity fuelled by lots of rubbish ‘fast food’.
That ‘society’ could be substituted with the words ‘non-science’, since there are no worthwhile studies showing that dietary fat alone causes heart problems. However, over the last 7 decades, it has become ‘The Science’ with no need to back it up with data.
Not unlike Fauci’s claim that mRNA vaccines would be ‘a dead end’ for covid.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
1 year ago
Reply to  Simon South

I think you’ve missed the point of the article. Nobody is saying you shouldn’t have sympathy for the obese, addicts or alcoholics. Most as you say use their addictions as a crutch and do require help to turn their situation around, but that doesn’t mean we should accept their behaviour as normal

M Harries
M Harries
1 year ago
Reply to  Simon South

After 60 years of smoking, my father quit cold turkey. Well done, he!

Addiction is a psychological / physiological / habitual / discipline issue.

What about our duty to our brotherhood and sisterhood taxpayers? Is it right that we take measures to not minimalise our need for demanding resources from our communal health system? Shouldn’t we feel guilty about gratuitously using NHS services?

Isn’t someone who takes the lift, rather than using the stairs, effectively perpetrating a micro aggression against society’s taxpayers who fund the NHS? Perhaps not, if one subsequently does 10 minutes on the exercycle at some point later in the day 
 as a penance at least?

But someone is more socially responsible, more morally pure, if one both takes the stairs AND uses the Exercycle. Shouldn’t I be on the Exercycle NOW, instead of writing this response? What cost this sense of permanent guilt and anxiety?

Right, I’m off to walk the dogs
 that’s one last virtue-signal before finishing. Yes, I will also inform the planet of my good intentions via Twitter and Facebook. I hope I get lots of ‘likes’, otherwise it will ruin my day!

Iris Violet
Iris Violet
1 year ago
Reply to  Simon South

Thank you for sharing and well done for getting on top of your weight and food addiction. I don’t think anyone denies that there is an emotional and/or psychological issue behind overeating. Lionel has experienced this close to hand with her brother who sadly did not manage to escape his obesity.

But, are we as a society all responsible then for everyone else’s emotional well-being and the choices they make as a result, possibly turning into addiction and poor life quality? Are we somehow to make everyone happy?

Perhaps, knowing that it is really only that particular person that can make himself happy, we should focus on teaching our children the skill of being content and happy in themselves.

Last edited 1 year ago by Iris Violet
John Dee
John Dee
1 year ago
Reply to  Simon South

‘Society’ has certainly contributed to the obesity epidemic. Telling people to avoid fats and eat lots of carbohydrates has merely replaced any fat-induced heart attacks with diabetes and obesity fuelled by lots of rubbish ‘fast food’.
That ‘society’ could be substituted with the words ‘non-science’, since there are no worthwhile studies showing that dietary fat alone causes heart problems. However, over the last 7 decades, it has become ‘The Science’ with no need to back it up with data.
Not unlike Fauci’s claim that mRNA vaccines would be ‘a dead end’ for covid.

Simon South
Simon South
1 year ago

This is missing the point completely! When someone become clinically or morbidly obese it is very often because food has become an emotional crutch, food is their comfort and reassurance. I myself underwent a gastric sleeve operation a year ago because I was clinically obese.

So many people don’t understand the downward spiral a destructive relationship with food, triggered by depression, low self esteem or insecurity can create. Everyone seems to be under the apprehension that to shout “just eat less” is the answer ( including many doctors). However, would you simply tell an alcoholic to ” just stop drinking” or a drug addict to ” just stop”. No!

I believe society contributes hugely in creating addictions through a failure to identify economic/social trigger points or mental and emotional turmoil or through the constant projection of a utopian consumerist driven existance that for many is unachievable, while media projects the perceived right for immediate gratification of your every desire. And yet when people are deeply scared or emotionally damaged, it fails to offer the appropriate support, they are left as collateral damage of the consumerist dream. Drug addicts are “maintained” on a stabilising dose of methadone , not cured, alcoholics rely on AA or similar charitable organisations and food addicts are told to diet!

There is, (and rightly so), a need for personal ownership of your own reality, however, as any recovering addict will tell you there has to be a bottoming out and a realisation that things need to change before this can happen . Simply following the old colonial British approach of shouting louder and louder at ‘a foreigner’ in English to make them understand is futile, the same is true for those who suffer with addiction.

Phil Gurski
Phil Gurski
1 year ago

Wonderful points! Thanks for posting.

Phil Gurski
Phil Gurski
1 year ago

Wonderful points! Thanks for posting.

Iris Violet
Iris Violet
1 year ago

I really enjoyed this article and Lionel addressed what came up in my mind every time. Thank you

Iris Violet
Iris Violet
1 year ago

I really enjoyed this article and Lionel addressed what came up in my mind every time. Thank you

Philip Anderson
Philip Anderson
1 year ago

I fully agree that the current “it’s fine to be fat” cultural message is unhelpful, although as I understand it, the psychological problem with shame and stigma is that it frequently backfires – shame a fat person and they may well respond with a comfort eating binge.
Can we therefore respond creatively to the situation in such a way that reliably supports people to make healthy choices, without backfiring and without demonising people who may already be struggling badly to cope?

Philip Anderson
Philip Anderson
1 year ago

I fully agree that the current “it’s fine to be fat” cultural message is unhelpful, although as I understand it, the psychological problem with shame and stigma is that it frequently backfires – shame a fat person and they may well respond with a comfort eating binge.
Can we therefore respond creatively to the situation in such a way that reliably supports people to make healthy choices, without backfiring and without demonising people who may already be struggling badly to cope?

Alan Hawkes
Alan Hawkes
1 year ago

Not so much an article as an avalanche of verity. But there are those of us who will make judgements: and we have a vote.

Alan Hawkes
Alan Hawkes
1 year ago

Not so much an article as an avalanche of verity. But there are those of us who will make judgements: and we have a vote.

Claude Miller
Claude Miller
1 year ago

There is a problem if someone is feeling shame instead of guilt related to their obesity.  An interesting aspect of shame is that it is most functional at the group or societal level, but tends to be dysfunctional at the individual level. That is to say shame helps keep people in line by presenting the threat of ostracism –nobody wants to be a pariah, so shame represents the threat of being an outcast that tends to help regulate society. However, at the individual level, the coping behaviors for shame are not specifically uplifting. Unlike guilt–with its focus on the transgression rather than the self–toward which individuals generally respond with recompense (thereby making themselves better individuals), with shame–and its focus on the self–individuals tend to cope by minimizing the perceived negative attribute (and/or transgression if there is one), or externalize the cause (rather than attribute to their own control), and the effect shame has on anger can often be ugly. On the other hand, guilt combines with anger in more constructive ways. So your point about how shame is powerful and innate and evolved to facilitate social harmony is well taken, and moreover, to try to program it out is both ill considered and futile. The trick is to try to shift or transform feelings of shame into feelings of guilt so that the coping behaviors for the individual are more self-improving rather than painful and debilitating.

Claude Miller
Claude Miller
1 year ago

There is a problem if someone is feeling shame instead of guilt related to their obesity.  An interesting aspect of shame is that it is most functional at the group or societal level, but tends to be dysfunctional at the individual level. That is to say shame helps keep people in line by presenting the threat of ostracism –nobody wants to be a pariah, so shame represents the threat of being an outcast that tends to help regulate society. However, at the individual level, the coping behaviors for shame are not specifically uplifting. Unlike guilt–with its focus on the transgression rather than the self–toward which individuals generally respond with recompense (thereby making themselves better individuals), with shame–and its focus on the self–individuals tend to cope by minimizing the perceived negative attribute (and/or transgression if there is one), or externalize the cause (rather than attribute to their own control), and the effect shame has on anger can often be ugly. On the other hand, guilt combines with anger in more constructive ways. So your point about how shame is powerful and innate and evolved to facilitate social harmony is well taken, and moreover, to try to program it out is both ill considered and futile. The trick is to try to shift or transform feelings of shame into feelings of guilt so that the coping behaviors for the individual are more self-improving rather than painful and debilitating.

ben arnulfssen
ben arnulfssen
1 year ago

Normally I’m an avid reader of Lionel Shriver’s work, even if she does have a self-adopted nom de plume which is the American equivalent of “Hornby Dublo”, but I think she has missed a key point here.

The whole purpose of the Radical Left’s assault on standards and religion is quite clear and specific; it is to establish that there cannot be any source or moral authority higher than ideology.

This dates from the French Revolution – the well-spring of all such thought – and continues to the modern day.

ben arnulfssen
ben arnulfssen
1 year ago

Normally I’m an avid reader of Lionel Shriver’s work, even if she does have a self-adopted nom de plume which is the American equivalent of “Hornby Dublo”, but I think she has missed a key point here.

The whole purpose of the Radical Left’s assault on standards and religion is quite clear and specific; it is to establish that there cannot be any source or moral authority higher than ideology.

This dates from the French Revolution – the well-spring of all such thought – and continues to the modern day.

Dominic A
Dominic A
1 year ago

Reminds me of a preacher’s speech sampled by Tribe Called Quest – went something like this:

“This feeling of embarrassment, this shyness, this bashfulness; if you take that out of the people, then these people will do whatever they want to do; and that is the very definition of America today; a people who have no shame and therefore do whatever they want to do”

I wonder if it is particularly true in America not so much due to a lack of religious values, but an abundance of them – when you locate your values externally (from God) rather than internally (humanism) – it sets us up for a variety of problems.

Dominic A
Dominic A
1 year ago

Reminds me of a preacher’s speech sampled by Tribe Called Quest – went something like this:

“This feeling of embarrassment, this shyness, this bashfulness; if you take that out of the people, then these people will do whatever they want to do; and that is the very definition of America today; a people who have no shame and therefore do whatever they want to do”

I wonder if it is particularly true in America not so much due to a lack of religious values, but an abundance of them – when you locate your values externally (from God) rather than internally (humanism) – it sets us up for a variety of problems.

Benjamin Greco
Benjamin Greco
1 year ago

We shouldn’t beat up progressives too much, they are always well intentioned. I think what started out as sympathy for people facing the difficult task of recovery, from situations they got themselves into, morphed into removing the stigma in the hope that it would make their recovery easier then morphed further into thinking they didn’t have to recover at all. The proverbial slippery slope.
The problem with progressives is that their good intentions have gone massively awry, and they have gone off the rails. I have given up on hoping they will come to their senses because we now live in a culture where admitting you are wrong carries the greatest stigma of all.

John Riordan
John Riordan
1 year ago
Reply to  Benjamin Greco

“We shouldn’t beat up progressives too much, they are always well intentioned.”

Really? You believe that?

John Dee
John Dee
1 year ago
Reply to  John Riordan

Indeed; I can feel a bridge-selling opportunity approaching…

John Dee
John Dee
1 year ago
Reply to  John Riordan

Indeed; I can feel a bridge-selling opportunity approaching…

nigel roberts
nigel roberts
1 year ago
Reply to  Benjamin Greco

Progressivism is evil masquerading as compassion.

John Riordan
John Riordan
1 year ago
Reply to  Benjamin Greco

“We shouldn’t beat up progressives too much, they are always well intentioned.”

Really? You believe that?

nigel roberts
nigel roberts
1 year ago
Reply to  Benjamin Greco

Progressivism is evil masquerading as compassion.

Benjamin Greco
Benjamin Greco
1 year ago

We shouldn’t beat up progressives too much, they are always well intentioned. I think what started out as sympathy for people facing the difficult task of recovery, from situations they got themselves into, morphed into removing the stigma in the hope that it would make their recovery easier then morphed further into thinking they didn’t have to recover at all. The proverbial slippery slope.
The problem with progressives is that their good intentions have gone massively awry, and they have gone off the rails. I have given up on hoping they will come to their senses because we now live in a culture where admitting you are wrong carries the greatest stigma of all.

leculdesac suburbia
leculdesac suburbia
1 year ago

Thanks for the article. I think an important distinction is whether we’re stigmazing the harm of others.
Obviously, shoplifting isn’t victimless. Likewise, prostitution is not victimless. The reason the shame still adheres to the prostituted person instead of their legal rapist is because we are blind to how the purchase of usually young and often underage trafficked sex slaves is legal rape, not a civil right. It’s like blaming a slave for being sexually used for 10 years, instead of the slaveowner and/or their overseer (pimp).
I don’t think we have the civil right to beat certain people up every day for a fee. Pimps can’t open up plasma-selling services that they run like a stable where they take 75% of the profit and their plasma-donators have to drug themselves because they’re invaded by needles 20 times a day and are too weak to live or earn money any other way. How is it okay for hundreds of men to rent the inside of a woman’s body–imagine, being invaded by strange, nasty, smelly, fat, ugly, insult-spewing, grunting men who’re sticking their parts inside of your most intimate body while grabbing your hair and throwing you around a bed. Go to Julie Bindel and read about the Nordic Model of illegalizing the purchase, not the human.
Similarly, MAP is pedophilia and obviously harmful. And most trans-activist behavior is aimed at violating female rights and using them as part of an exhibitionist fantasy. Sending woman-face autogynephiliac men into preschools is a crime of exhibitionism. This is coercion. Forcing us to watch men’s autogynephilia, esp when they intrude into our spaces, is illegal exhibitionism. Sex crime. Lia Thomas’ teammates had to watch him undress and he got to watch them undress and he’s a heterosexual male. This is a violation of someone else’s civil rights to safety and to not watch someone else’s sexual behavior unless they choose.
When we get to stigma about behavior wherein a society bears the cost, that’s harder…..those are obvious areas of legit debate. But de-stigmatizing harming others is bullshit.

leculdesac suburbia
leculdesac suburbia
1 year ago

Thanks for the article. I think an important distinction is whether we’re stigmazing the harm of others.
Obviously, shoplifting isn’t victimless. Likewise, prostitution is not victimless. The reason the shame still adheres to the prostituted person instead of their legal rapist is because we are blind to how the purchase of usually young and often underage trafficked sex slaves is legal rape, not a civil right. It’s like blaming a slave for being sexually used for 10 years, instead of the slaveowner and/or their overseer (pimp).
I don’t think we have the civil right to beat certain people up every day for a fee. Pimps can’t open up plasma-selling services that they run like a stable where they take 75% of the profit and their plasma-donators have to drug themselves because they’re invaded by needles 20 times a day and are too weak to live or earn money any other way. How is it okay for hundreds of men to rent the inside of a woman’s body–imagine, being invaded by strange, nasty, smelly, fat, ugly, insult-spewing, grunting men who’re sticking their parts inside of your most intimate body while grabbing your hair and throwing you around a bed. Go to Julie Bindel and read about the Nordic Model of illegalizing the purchase, not the human.
Similarly, MAP is pedophilia and obviously harmful. And most trans-activist behavior is aimed at violating female rights and using them as part of an exhibitionist fantasy. Sending woman-face autogynephiliac men into preschools is a crime of exhibitionism. This is coercion. Forcing us to watch men’s autogynephilia, esp when they intrude into our spaces, is illegal exhibitionism. Sex crime. Lia Thomas’ teammates had to watch him undress and he got to watch them undress and he’s a heterosexual male. This is a violation of someone else’s civil rights to safety and to not watch someone else’s sexual behavior unless they choose.
When we get to stigma about behavior wherein a society bears the cost, that’s harder…..those are obvious areas of legit debate. But de-stigmatizing harming others is bullshit.

Chris W
Chris W
1 year ago

Since the majority of people in the UK are at least overweight, it is democratic to believe that overweight is normal. If the majority believes that fat is good, then it is good? If the minority was to protest in the street shouting ‘Down with fat’, they would be squashed immediately.
My wife has two names for obese people. For strangers, they are ‘Fat’. For friends and family they are ‘Big’. She has a big family and if I say that one of them is fat, that is me living in the shed for a while.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris W

“Squashed” is quite a vivid choice of verb.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris W

“Squashed” is quite a vivid choice of verb.

Chris W
Chris W
1 year ago

Since the majority of people in the UK are at least overweight, it is democratic to believe that overweight is normal. If the majority believes that fat is good, then it is good? If the minority was to protest in the street shouting ‘Down with fat’, they would be squashed immediately.
My wife has two names for obese people. For strangers, they are ‘Fat’. For friends and family they are ‘Big’. She has a big family and if I say that one of them is fat, that is me living in the shed for a while.

Ray Andrews
Ray Andrews
1 year ago

“These denizens of faeces-strewn pavements are almost all drug addicts or alcoholics who may also be mentally ill.”
OTOH, when a mere working person has to chose between eating and heating, and decent folks are forced to live on the street or in their cars, it is not surprising that hopelessness and thence drugs and mental illness will follow.

Ray Andrews
Ray Andrews
1 year ago

“These denizens of faeces-strewn pavements are almost all drug addicts or alcoholics who may also be mentally ill.”
OTOH, when a mere working person has to chose between eating and heating, and decent folks are forced to live on the street or in their cars, it is not surprising that hopelessness and thence drugs and mental illness will follow.

Garrett Ransom
Garrett Ransom
1 year ago

UnHerd continues to shy away from data that complicates the narrative. Here are a few facts that suggest something more complex is happening than destigmatization
American high schoolers are having less sex than ever before (https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/people-have-been-having-less-sex-whether-theyre-teenagers-or-40-somethings/) . Teen pregnancy rates have fallen every year since 1991 (https://www.cdc.gov/teenpregnancy/about/index.htm). Divorce rates are the lowest they have been since 1971 (https://ifstudies.org/blog/the-us-divorce-rate-has-hit-a-50-year-low). Walgreens’ CFO on an earnings call in January said that the company perhaps cried a little too loudly about theft (https://www.cnbc.com/2023/01/05/walgreens-may-have-overstated-theft-concerns.html). Homicide rates in 2020 were 6.52, which was a 30% increase from 2019, but still represents 2001 levels. 1990 was near 10 per 100k.
Despite the increase in crime, it is very difficult to argue that today’s world (statistically) is worse than the heady days of the 1990s or even 1970s. Every metric cited is lower than the rambunctious baby boomer and Gen X generations. In fact, I would even go so far to say that Millenials and Gen Z should have been more risk-taking. Teen pregnancy is not stigmatized to the extent it was in the 1980s (there are plenty of Teen Mom shows) yet the rate is far lower. Divorce is no longer stigmatized yet the rate is dropping. Sex is more liberated…yet the data reflect less sex among the youth. From this perspective, how is it logical to argue that stigmatization will lower undesired behaviors when these 3 very examples are less stigmatized than ever before, yet the rates are dropping or at historic lows? Like I said, the world is complicated. UnHerd really, really needs to incorporate data in its articles. The journalism will only improve when you incorporate the nuance of real world data.

Last edited 1 year ago by Garrett Ransom
Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
1 year ago
Reply to  Garrett Ransom

Averaging data across a nation can be meaningless. There is a adage ” 90% of Police time is spent dealing with 10% of the population ” and probably only 1% is violent. All the statistics mentioned will be based upon the activties of very few people in a small area and when it comes to violence, often at certain times.
Some cities can vary from one side of a street to another, from a luxury condo 50m away from a crime infested block of appartments.
What needs to be done is examine conditions in the crime infested block of appartments over time. Of course the criminals could move elsewhere as a result of gentrification.

Garrett R
Garrett R
1 year ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

That’s a point lost on many that population-level data obscure or distort more varied narratives lurking beneath smoothened numbers. However, I think the author (and many at UnHerd) still paint with a very broad brush. At some level, you have to address the surveys that run counter to your narrative. Maybe the surveys have horrific methodology. Maybe they are highly biased. Either way, these are the only numbers we have and they do not support the notion that stigmatization increases desired behavioral outcomes. I would have no issue with this article if it at least spent a couple paragraphs explaining why social surveys cannot be trusted.

Garrett R
Garrett R
1 year ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

That’s a point lost on many that population-level data obscure or distort more varied narratives lurking beneath smoothened numbers. However, I think the author (and many at UnHerd) still paint with a very broad brush. At some level, you have to address the surveys that run counter to your narrative. Maybe the surveys have horrific methodology. Maybe they are highly biased. Either way, these are the only numbers we have and they do not support the notion that stigmatization increases desired behavioral outcomes. I would have no issue with this article if it at least spent a couple paragraphs explaining why social surveys cannot be trusted.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
1 year ago
Reply to  Garrett Ransom

Averaging data across a nation can be meaningless. There is a adage ” 90% of Police time is spent dealing with 10% of the population ” and probably only 1% is violent. All the statistics mentioned will be based upon the activties of very few people in a small area and when it comes to violence, often at certain times.
Some cities can vary from one side of a street to another, from a luxury condo 50m away from a crime infested block of appartments.
What needs to be done is examine conditions in the crime infested block of appartments over time. Of course the criminals could move elsewhere as a result of gentrification.

Garrett Ransom
Garrett Ransom
1 year ago

UnHerd continues to shy away from data that complicates the narrative. Here are a few facts that suggest something more complex is happening than destigmatization
American high schoolers are having less sex than ever before (https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/people-have-been-having-less-sex-whether-theyre-teenagers-or-40-somethings/) . Teen pregnancy rates have fallen every year since 1991 (https://www.cdc.gov/teenpregnancy/about/index.htm). Divorce rates are the lowest they have been since 1971 (https://ifstudies.org/blog/the-us-divorce-rate-has-hit-a-50-year-low). Walgreens’ CFO on an earnings call in January said that the company perhaps cried a little too loudly about theft (https://www.cnbc.com/2023/01/05/walgreens-may-have-overstated-theft-concerns.html). Homicide rates in 2020 were 6.52, which was a 30% increase from 2019, but still represents 2001 levels. 1990 was near 10 per 100k.
Despite the increase in crime, it is very difficult to argue that today’s world (statistically) is worse than the heady days of the 1990s or even 1970s. Every metric cited is lower than the rambunctious baby boomer and Gen X generations. In fact, I would even go so far to say that Millenials and Gen Z should have been more risk-taking. Teen pregnancy is not stigmatized to the extent it was in the 1980s (there are plenty of Teen Mom shows) yet the rate is far lower. Divorce is no longer stigmatized yet the rate is dropping. Sex is more liberated…yet the data reflect less sex among the youth. From this perspective, how is it logical to argue that stigmatization will lower undesired behaviors when these 3 very examples are less stigmatized than ever before, yet the rates are dropping or at historic lows? Like I said, the world is complicated. UnHerd really, really needs to incorporate data in its articles. The journalism will only improve when you incorporate the nuance of real world data.

Last edited 1 year ago by Garrett Ransom
Bob Hardy
Bob Hardy
1 year ago

A splendid article.. Describing – as my sainted Irish grandmother would have it, how – “Everything is still the same as it always was really … Only different.”

opop anax
opop anax
1 year ago

Lionel, I absolutely loved your “Big Brother” novel. It made me laugh, it made me cry, it made me despair and it gave me hope. A work of genius.
And this is a good article.

opop anax
opop anax
1 year ago