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The strange pronouncement “shame on you!” hints at the oppressive character of shame—a deeply internalized emotion imposed by others. Shame on you. Unlike guilt, shame publicly stigmatizes individuals rather than actions. It assails self-worth, using emotional pain to punish nonconformity. Psychologist Patricia DeYoung describes it as “the enemy of well-being.”

There is a barbarism to public humiliation that seems to belong to an age of pillories and dunce caps. But Jon Ronson, in So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, chronicles “a great renaissance of public shaming” in this century. Fueled by angry politics and a brutal online peanut gallery, it has burgeoned as the penalty for many perceived transgressions. Sometimes the justification seems irrefutable: #MeToo throws off the victims’ shame and places it on its proper recipients. When laws don’t

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This story is from Kinfolk Issue Thirty

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