Home > Uncategorized > Shame Machine: an owner’s manual

Shame Machine: an owner’s manual

February 2, 2019

Friends, I’m writing today to announce that I’m hard at work on a new book, called:


Shame Machine

an owner’s manual


It’s once again being written with my editor Amanda Cook at the publisher Crown Random House, just like Weapons of Math Destruction. The tentative release date is January 2021, after the next presidential election.

The idea of the book is to understand shame as a social mechanism. When, why, and how do we shame each other? Who profits from shame? Who maintains power or gains power through shame? When is shame valid, and when is it simply mean and cruel? How is shame delivered in the age of big data?

I come to these questions because of the proliferation shame-based interactions and strategies in politics but also interpersonally; from my experience of getting my insurance company to pay for bariatric surgery, to observing people interacting viciously on Twitter, to hearing how teachers were unfairly scored with the value-added model, it seems like shame is the informal glue that holds our system together. So naturally I started nerding out bigtime.

Shame Machine is a culmination of quite a bit of thinking and writing, research and personal development that I’ve been busy with for the last couple of years. Readers of my blog will have noticed that I’ve been posting a lot less, and this is why. Where I tried out a bunch of ideas for Weapons on this blog, and heard back from you guys (thanks again!), this time it’s quite a bit more personal, so I’ve been hesitant to write about it openly while I was still thinking it through. Suffice it to say I’m sure you readers would have had lots of great advice, and hopefully I’ll be able to ask you for thoughts in the future.

Anyway, I’m out of the hibernation/ideas/planning phase and into the writing phase, and it’s both amazing and scary.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. February 2, 2019 at 7:33 am

    Sounds great!… and, assuming a viable America is still here, I admire anyone who can plan ahead to January 2021… I can’t see ahead to next Thursday. 😦

    Liked by 1 person

  2. February 2, 2019 at 8:56 am

    Not sure it’s the same kind of shame, but do you know the work of Gershen Kaufman?


  3. February 2, 2019 at 9:01 am

    As a new writer, I’m following what happened to Amélie Wen Zhao and I’m aghast. Public shaming forced her to cancel a book that wasn’t yet available for the public to read, so that we could…you know…form our own reasoned opinions. What would the Twitter mob have done to Vladimir Nabokov, had they been around then? Or Salinger or a host of other authors who pushed our boundaries? What’s the point of the First Amendment when its impotent “protection” folds in the face of mob shaming?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. February 2, 2019 at 9:07 am

    That’s so exciting! I have very few “insta-buy” authors these days and you’re at the top of the list.


  5. February 2, 2019 at 10:34 am

    “We have met the enemy, and he is us!” – Pogo


  6. Deborah the Closet Monster
    February 4, 2019 at 3:56 pm

    I’d really like to fast-forward to January 2021 for this book!

    I hope the process of writing is cathartic and illuminating, if not always enjoyable.


  7. Jeff
    February 4, 2019 at 4:21 pm

    One more reason to look forward to early 2021.

    This might be a separate phenomenon from what you’re considering, but your bringing up shame reminds me of the lack of it in certain parts of our public life. When it comes to some kinds, more might be better.


    • February 13, 2019 at 9:08 am

      I think what you are talking about here is probably better described as “lack of respect” — for other human beings, for nature and the environment, indeed, for just about everything worthy of respect.


  8. Tim Green
    February 9, 2019 at 9:18 pm

    Shame is SUCH a strong motivator of behavior, both in our desperation to avoid it being applied to us, and the (usually) inexplicable desire to cause it in others. It’s so universal, that you’ll find plenty written about it various disciplines. perhaps most prominently in the academic and popular psychology and sociology literature. Shame in childhood seems to be the source of many horrific acts in adulthood — inflicted and self-inflicted. And we unfortunately have access to thousands of social media enabled examples every day.

    Those involved in selling many types of consumer products have a good handle on the science of shame as well.

    I’m thinking your challenge will be deciding how to keep the book a manageable size. Even so, I hope you can reserve at least part of a chapter, though, for productive uses of shame avoidance, e.g. filing taxes, charitable acts and contributions, being a good friend, obeying traffic laws…


  9. gertrude
    February 12, 2019 at 11:57 am

    I’m so glad you are doing this. Shame is present in my life each and every day. I maintained a 140 lb weight loss for 25 years, but when I turned 40 my thyroid crapped out. I have a sister who thinks I MUST be a secret binge eater. I stopped talking to her for a while after the last time she said something that betrayed her suspicion.

    It was still hard, because I was with thin people every day for 25 years, most of whom didn’t know I had been fat as a teenager and the agony it caused. Actually, some of the men were overweight, but that’s ok for men in our society. I believe that if you are fat at 12, you will feel fat all your life. People say terribe things about fat people when they think no one fat is around, but if you feel fat, those things hurt you just the same. I look forward to reading your experience, and your strength and hope. If the insurance company approved the surgery, you will be at least close to thin by then. Will you add an epilogue about what it’s like to not be fat-shamed every day?


  10. February 13, 2019 at 10:25 am

    Congratulations! This sounds like a fantastic project. I can’t wait to read it.

    On the subject of books I’m looking forward to reading, on the top of my current list is Kate Manne’s “Down Girl.” Shame came up in an interesting way in her recent interview with Ezra Klein, as a key contributor to the logic of misogyny, which she conceives as a societal, rather than sociological phenomenon. Anyway if you’re looking for something to listen to on a long bike ride, you might enjoy their conversation:



    • February 13, 2019 at 10:59 am

      Thanks, yes, I listened to that interesting interview last week. I like it a lot except for her take on young white boys. I don’t think they’ll all become Buddhists any time soon, and I think she underestimates the pull of Jordan Peterson and people like him.


  11. Rach
    February 16, 2019 at 5:04 am

    Looking forward to this. Examples: Amazon’s leaving the NYC project, the grilling of Facebook (Sheryl Sandberg and Zuck, and why not e.g. Google too?), Parkland Shooting and March for Our Lives (shaming of Marco Rubio for NRA support), the shaming of companies for ads (check out Sleeping Giants), …


  12. Ron
    February 26, 2019 at 4:17 pm

    Congratulations on your second book, Cathy! This topic is fascinating, and I can’t wait to read your take on it. As an educator myself, I’m amazed at the impact, both negative and positive, that shame can have on students. Great title, too!


  13. Jim Carroll
    March 2, 2019 at 5:04 pm

    the great Australian comic/musician has a recent and relevant song: Fifteen Minutes; here are two links for your review, Cathy:

    short solo piano version:

    music video version with kids:


  1. No trackbacks yet.
Comments are closed.
%d bloggers like this: