Max’s article in The New Yorker illuminates the many stories of people around the world who were shamed by the public, and sometimes even the government, who contracted Covid-19 or were presumed to have contracted it. The most prevalent way that people have been shamed has evolved over time from being held in the public square, to printed in the newspaper, to broadcasted on TV, and now to being publicized on the internet for the entire world to see. This has contributed to people publicly disparaging others in countries far away from their own and can be considered a part of “cancel culture.”
Shaming is beneficial and can be an effective tool for deterring negative behaviors when it is done by someone that the person being shamed, prior to the process of shaming, respects the authority and opinion of. Thus, it is most beneficial for the shamer to be someone close to the person being shamed and in the private sphere, as in the case of a parent saying they are disappointed in a child or a friend intervening in another friend’s destructive lifestyle through shame. It is for these reasons that shame in our culture has a strong basis in deontological philosophy, for it often is employed to evoke feelings of moral regret for one’s “wrong” actions. Cancel culture, in both the context of the pandemic and elsewhere, is the prime example of this because the public withdraws their support for objectionable behavior often in an extremely cruel manner.
All of this calls into the question of whether or not extremely public shame as seen on Twitter and Facebook, centered around Covid-19 actions or otherwise, is really a beneficial activity for people to engage in. While it may deter behavior for some, it could also have no effect because people may not care what random other people comment on the internet, or it could have worse implications such as suicides that Max mentioned in his article. Should an action continue if it works in some situations but is detrimental in others?