What are some books on poisonous shame

The excitement was great a few days ago: In Germany it became known that Switzerland is making the names of tax evaders public on the Internet. As it turned out, the Swiss authorities have been doing this for a number of years. And this is not so much an "online pillory" as a somewhat strange attempt to contact suspects and get them to be heard.

And yet in times of increased transparency and at the same time uncontrollable surveillance, a strange feeling hangs in the air: culprits are under the threat of being publicly embarrassed.

"Shame will play a major role in the future"

Since 2007, the state of California has published a list of the 500 fattest fish that failed to pay their taxes in the previous year - companies and private individuals alike. American environmental researcher and internet activist Jennifer Jacquet thinks that is quite good. She has now published the relevant book "Shame. The Political Power of an Underestimated Feeling". "This new world age," the author is convinced, "needs new rules, and shame will play a major role in their implementation."

In the USA, however, there are also judges who condemn delinquents to wear a T-shirt on which the criminal act is printed. In Ohio, a woman had to stand on the street with a sign that read, "Only idiots get the idea to drive your car onto the sidewalk to avoid a school bus."

Reading sample

The publisher provides an excerpt from the book here.

Even Jennifer Jacquet does not think that such shame punishments, which are known from pre-Enlightenment justice, are in order. Public humiliation, even if it is for preventive purposes, is a "sensitive and sometimes dangerous tool" that is "to be used selectively and effectively". According to Jacquet, human dignity must always be preserved and "the right measure".

Who determines the right measure?

Sounds reasonable at first. But who sets the limit, which forms of "shaming" are still allowed, which are already unacceptable? For example, how low must participation in elections be before we find it acceptable to publish the names of non-voters in order to (there are such experiments) increase the turnout again? And wouldn't a democratic majority have to decide again on such a breach of electoral secrecy? So who determines the right measure? This is the central weak point, the great ambiguity, in which this entire book of shame unfortunately remains irretrievably caught, although it offers quite interesting material for debate.

Because one can also take the position that "public shame" basically means a pitiful surrender of democratic politics and the rule of law. To this day, prison sentences and fines still contain a remnant of public, communal atonement and reprimand - nevertheless, a more liberal criminal law insists, for good reason, on protecting the accused from humiliation and on the chance of rehabilitation.

It is true that modern prisons are not simply more modern and fairer, but also an "optimization" of disciplinary techniques, if one follows the reading of Michel Foucault ("Monitoring and punishing") - nevertheless stigmata, banishment, public flogging or executions are out in developed constitutional states abolished with just as good reason.

Do we need more or less public shame?

Yes, with a view to various, often hasty digital lynch mobs - the risks of which Jennifer Jacquet also mentions - one could just as easily come to the conclusion: We don't need more public humiliation, we need less of it. This has recently also been shown in Germany in several trials against prominent personalities - Thomas Middelhoff, Uli HoeneƟ, Sebastian Edathy: After the initial excitement, the rule of law argument, which is very questionable according to the rule of law, then spreads in an unsavory way that someone has already been punished enough by public shame ".

This "enough punishment" may be something that a judge can take into account in his judgment - but not something that the public has to judge in terms of mood.

A tried and tested means when nothing changes politically or legally

Jennifer Jacquet, however, always considers shaming, especially on the Internet, to be a tried and tested means if nothing can (yet) be moved politically or legally against big messes by corporations and investment banks - and certainly not through consumer purchasing decisions. Better laws and regulations can only be achieved if the West develops a little from individual guilt back to a collective culture of shame, says the otherwise rather poor book in terms of the history of religion and ideas.

One can certainly understand Jacquet's desperation over intolerable grievances - but what if the embarrassed, as recently Fifa boss Josef Blatter, is not at all ashamed?