YANSS 047 – Jon Ronson, the history of public shaming, and our newfound power to ruin the lives of strangers with tweets

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The Topic: Public Shaming

The Guests: Jon Ronson and Courtney Luckhardt

The Episode: DownloadiTunesStitcherRSSSoundcloud


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Public shaming is back, and Jon Ronson has written a book about it.

It’s not a pop-science book. It doesn’t attempt to outline the bio-psycho-social underpinning of our urge to shame. Instead, Ronson spends time with people who’ve been recently ruined, made to suffer by the newfound shaming powers of a web-savvy public.

JRHis goal, he says in the latest episode of the You Are Not So Smart Podcast, was to show us the anguish we can cause when our tweets pile high enough to crush a real human being. “I just wanted to say, ‘Look, what we are doing is profoundly traumatizing.’ Our punishments are worse than we think they are. And, you know, at least, come to terms with that if you want to carry on doing it.”

In the interview, you’ll hear Ronson describe how in his new book, “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed,” he brings the reader inside the lives of people who have had their lives ruined. From that viewpoint, he hopes, we can see what happens when we obliterate people for unpopular opinions, off-color jokes, offensive language, and professional faux pas.

CLIn this episode, you will also hear historian Courtney Luckhardt explain how the urge to shame and our motivations to do so are both largely unchanged from those of the people who lived during colonial and medieval periods. Human beings in groups have always used shame to police one another on many levels, she says, in an effort to better define the boundaries of what is and what is not acceptable behavior. Those notions of acceptability shift, sometimes slowly, sometimes over a decade or less, but the inclination to shame those who step outside social bounds seems set.

The modern complication explored in this episode is the power to shame people previously unknown to us, people who we will likely never meet or think about again after pressing whatever buttons required to share our opinions. Before town-square public shamings were outlawed in most countries, our targets were members of our communities. Everyone knew the guilty parties beforehand, knew the nature of their transgressions, and the people receiving the shamings were within shouting distance so we could see the consequences of our in-person ridicule. Today, a person can go from invisible to infamous in a day thanks to the aggregate outrage of well-meaning people on Twitter just like you.

After the interview, I discuss a news story about how Google can make you underestimate your internet-less ignorance.

Coo-KayIn every episode, after I read a bit of self delusion news, I taste a cookie baked from a recipe sent in by a listener/reader. That listener/reader wins a signed copy of my new book, “You Are Now Less Dumb,” and I post the recipe on the YANSS Pinterest page. This episode’s winner is Kevin Stafford who submitted a recipe for Pumpkin Apple Cider Oatmeal Creme Pies. Send your own recipes to david {at} youarenotsosmart.com.

Links and Sources


Previous Episodes

Boing Boing Podcasts

Cookie Recipes

Jon Ronson’s Website

Courtney Luckhardt

Scene from A Knight’s Tale

How the Internet makes you think you’re smarter than you really are

Internet Searches Create Illusion of Personal Knowledge, Research Finds

Searching for Explanations: How the Internet Inflates Estimates of Internal Knowledge

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YANSS at TEDx: Missing What is Missing

The very nice people at TEDx Jackson invited me to speak in November, and the nice people at TED just posted the video.

The talk is all about survivorship bias and how it skews our perception in the direction of the living, the winners, and the successful. A lifetime of that kind of filtering leads to a very biased view of the world.

TED described the talk like so,”Success stories are often used as templates while the most valuable lessons hide in the history of endeavors that did not end well.”

The talk was based on this post where you can find links to all the sources: Survivorship Bias.

You can buy the poster designed for the article and the talk from the artist at this link.

Thanks to David Pharr and Nina Parikh who organized the event along with several other dedicated and amazing people. It was Mississippi’s first TED. More details about the event can be found here: TEDxJackson – Fertile Ground

YANSS 041 – The Football Game that Split Reality and the Ceiling that Birthed a Naked Man


The Topic: The Game/Ceiling Crasher

The Episode: DownloadiTunesStitcherRSSSoundcloud


This episode is brought to you by Loot Crate. Get 10 percent off your subscription by visiting LootCrate.com/Smart and entering the code SMART.

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In this episode, two stories, one about a football game that split reality in two for the people who witnessed it, and another about what happened when a naked man literally appeared out of thin air inside a couple’s apartment while they were getting ready for work.

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