“The basic experience connected to shame,” wrote English philosopher Bernard Williams, “is that of being seen, inappropriately, by the wrong people, in the wrong condition.” Scrolling on my phone, I find myself thinking it is a good thing that Williams died in 2003 because an hour on any social media platform might have otherwise killed him. To be seen inappropriately (say, simulating sexual intercourse) by the wrong people (for example, the other tourists around you and also the entire internet) in the wrong condition (on a bridge in Venice), has become the goal for increasing numbers of people.
Somewhere over the course of the past 10 years, we decided everything should be normalized; that to be cringe was to be free; that you should not only wholly accept but also share every thought or experience you ever have, no matter how embarrassing or repulsive. Why not take to Twitter to loudly and proudly announce that you have never made a woman orgasm or that you don’t wash your ass in the shower, with absolutely no prompting? The dominant culture of the internet has endeavored to convince us that all our emotions are valid, with increasing numbers of people further affirmed in their wrongness by therapy-speak they apply selectively to make themselves look and feel better. Shame, for its part, has come to be regarded as an inherently toxic, destructive emotion: a stand-in for self-loathing and unaddressed childhood trauma.
To be clear, it’s good that some things have been normalized: not wearing a bra, homosexuality, oat milk. But the flipside of living in a world where you are repeatedly told you shouldn’t be ashamed of anything is one in which a literal British prince — heretofore the most stiff-upper-lipped, shame-filled demographic in all of history — has been convinced that he needed to publish a memoir detailing, among many other things that I have learned against my will, the circumstances in which he lost his virginity in toe-curling detail. When did it become so undesirable to have secrets?