Using her powerful story telling techniques including her own experience from weight-loss surgery, O’Neil argues that the long-term solution to this societal problem includes its recognition, and plentiful use of the good human characteristics of kindness and compassion ... Thoroughly researched, well written, timely, and easy to understand, O’Neil’s book can and should find a wide audience.
What O’Neil adroitly illustrates is that shame is often a lonely experience, which is perhaps why it is so easy to exploit it for profit ... O’Neil carefully dismantles how we abdicate our social responsibility for caring for the vulnerable when we indulge in the notion that poverty and drug addiction result from a failure to self-actualize. It’s hard to argue with the author’s condemnation of what she calls 'punching down,' a targeted brand of humiliation that allows structures of power to transfer blame onto exactly those who have been injured by them ... Where The Shame Machine seems to rattle off its tracks is in O’Neil’s discussion of what she refers to as 'healthy shaming'—let’s call it a lateral punch ... Though O’Neil outlines how the lateral punch often successfully influences behaviors that result in a genuine collective benefit (she provides Covid-19 vaccinations as an example), she neglects to fully excavate what role sheer pleasure plays in our impulse to shame in those situations that have neither obvious victim nor victimizer.
The Shame Machine is not a diary of O’Neil’s grief but instead a data-driven, anecdote-fueled narrative of the multitude of human experiences that are targets for ridicule and others’ reward. She vividly portrays the indignities of poverty, addiction, aging, dementia and other conditions we all may face but hope to avoid, and she shows how the pain experienced by people with these afflictions can be used for others’ financial and social profits ... sad case studies do more than chastise enterprises that seek to profit from others’ suffering. O’Neil’s exposés also evoke philosophical questions ... But I wonder if O’Neil has gotten it right. If shame is a mechanism for changing others’ choices, why do anti-vaxxers defy social pressures or even legal mandates to get the shot? ... I’m also not convinced that shame is always intended for profit ... Beyond these points of contention, O’Neil offers a provocative takeaway.