Jon Ronson talks about the shamed people in his new book


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It’s tough, I find that not only have people been encouraged to be more judgemental of others, but also more hostile to those who choose to not be judgemental. When they are trying to fuel controversy, it can be tedious when some insist that one must choose sides. And they tend to conveniently assume that if one doesn’t choose their side, that this endorses “the other” side. To avoid easy answers and kneejerk reactions, I tend to assume that there are at least ten sides to any story, and that I likely don’t know much about most of them.


Could we simply shame him for writing books about subjects he clearly doesn’t understand, while trying to explain the subject to others as if he is an expert, and when provided that his evidence is flimsy, he doubles down?

That said, I was as entertained by his last book as I was academically abhorred by it.


Isn’t putting Jonah Lehrer in the same list as those others a little odd?

I think his list included people he personally felt deserved a second chance

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[quote=“clifyt, post:3, topic:54734”]I was as entertained by his last book as I was academically abhorred by it.[/quote]Which one was that? I quite enjoyed Them! and The Men Who Stare at Goats, though I wouldn’t know if they were particularly lacking academically.

But racist jokes about black Africans getting AIDS, those people deserve a second chance, right? Ehhhhh kinda lost me there.


The Psychopath Test. I’ve seen Goats on Netflix…it was entertaining, I don’t know anything about the background on it to know if it was as one sided as this one. However, the Psychopath Test was BAD. It wasn’t even good science, it was him making crap up as he went along, with interviewees even stating that a good portion of what he wrote was nothing close to what they had said. Bad enough that several of the folks featured had to write statements clarifying his level of ignorance.

It was like reading a 400 level immuno book written by anti-vaxxers who barely passed high school biology, but now feel they are an expert because they learned to parrot a few phrases badly and circlejerked to the point they feel that as enough others have parroted the phrases back and forth to one another, there was validation in the strength of the masses. Seriously.

However, once you get past the lack of science, it was entertaining. Dude is a great fiction writer. Just wish he would have listed his work of fiction as such.

Read that part of the book. Her joke was to point out the disparity. It was tone deaf and she fucked up, but it wasn’t a “racist” joke in it’s intention. That’s kind of the point of the book. From my viewpoint at least.


FYI, the formatting isn’t correct for these parts of the interview section:

Mark: I wanted to talk a little bit about Jonah Lehrer, the first person and kind of the recurring star of your book.

Also here:

Mark: I was curious, have you been following what happened to that guy who made the Jon Ronson Twitterbot that you had in your introduction to your book?

And here:

Mark: I agree. Of all the people that you featured in your book, Justine Sacco, Lindsey Stone, Jonah Lehrer, and the Donglegate trio, do you feel any of them have gotten their life back to some degree?

Here too:

Jon: Yeah, in fact it made him realize that she was human. She said to me afterwards that she felt he had some real guilt over it. Yeah, it did calm him down. In the end he sort of apologized to her. He wrote a column in Gawker apologizing to her.

It’s mixed in with the other part and no bolding.

I haven’t read the book, but from Ronson’s article he wrote in the Times back in February, the quotes from her are more along the lines of “I was just kidding, I didn’t mean it literally, obviously” - which points more towards it being just a simple racist joke made in bad taste. Maybe the book elaborates more, but it really does seem like this is an attempt at putting more noble intentions behind her joke than were really there.

I could be misreading the situation, I’ve neither the time nor interest in “deeply studying” this matter as it doesn’t seem to warrant it: Lehrer stole, lied and cheated in a quest to become rich and famous. Not really second chance material. Accidents happen and warrant forgiveness. His course of behavior which is a long series of hundreds of actions wasn’t an “accident” [plotting to become “famous” isn’t like a “one off” stupid joke] unless there is a new definition of accident that I am unfamiliar with. But I’ll cop to not reading anything much more than this interview and the wiki on Lehrer and thinking about it for a bit.


nah, you’re definitely misreading it, it was an anti-racist joke that failed to land.




Thanks! Will fix.

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Mark: the man who ripped a book in half. LET THE SHAMING BEGIN!
cc: Twitter, Facebook


Thing is, how much shame does an offensive joke require? Whatever was intended, unless the joker goes around making offensive jokes all the time — like the occasional relative we all seem to have — does she need to carry around a figurative letter J branded on her skin for the rest of her life? Or even for a few years? And if our offensive relative gets away with it all the time, why aren’t we trying to shame them on the internets, instead of just rolling our eyes and ignoring them? What was special about Sacco that she needs to be especially shamed?


An entire book was written about the ethics of hateful speech:

In Judaism, it is considered almost as sinful as murder to hurt someone’s good name, either through false witness (the old familiar commandment), but also by Lashon HaRa, evil tongue, which is telling the truth in a way that does not improve the situation and would not have been known otherwise. It goes on to discuss nearly 30 other forms of slander and hateful discourse.

Whether you agree with the religious basis or not, these are rules that lead to a kinder and gentler social setting.


I think one of the fundemental causes of disagreements around issues like this comes from two opposing views, one is that culture fundamentally shapes human behavior, and the other is that culture is fundamentally a representation of human behavior.

If the first is true then policing cultural output becomes important, because ‘negative’ culture will end up creating negative real world outcomes (this is of course complicated by deciding who’s in charge of deciding what is and isn’t negative). If the latter is true, then that would be both a waste of time and create more negative outcomes than doing nothing.

Of course the truth is that neither is true and both are, and probably more importantly, there are other unrelated causes that probably have bigger impacts than either (either completely contingent, or due to technological advances - and this is a perfect example of that, which-hunts are not new, but new technologies like Twitter enable them to operate at a completely different scale than before, amplifying both cultural norms and real world consequences).

Personally, I fall more on the latter side of the original dichotomy, but acknowledge it’s not the only factor. The former can in certain circumstances take the driving seat for a while, but culture mostly moves things along at a fairly sedate pace, and there are limits to what it is capable of doing.

What does this mean for the subject at hand? Much what Ronson talks about in the interview I think, basically people need to calm the fuck down unless there’s a very good reason to do otherwise.


Sufis say that every word leaving your mouth should first pass through three gates:

  • is it true?
  • is it fair?
  • is it kind?