By today’s standards, stigma is oppression. Shaming or judging a person for their behavior amounts to bad form and can get you in trouble.
But for those who contend that judgment is a mode of tyranny, there’s no hesitation to rallying behind/for/around a political agenda designed to give the government more power to regulate behavior. In other words, today’s elite, completely uncomfortable with common people passing judgment, are perfectly fine with government doing the same (while using law enforcement to kill or jail anyone who breaks the state-backed moral code).
In “Bring Back Stigma,” English philosopher Roger Scruton writes that philosophers from older generations always believed that community pressure “was a more powerful guarantor of civilized and lawful behavior than the laws themselves.”
Because stigma became a dirty concept over time, Scruton continues, “laws have expanded, both in extent and complexity, to fill the void.”
In a society where stigma is in use, judgment serves as a reminder that individuals are responsible for their actions. But with an overgrown government serving as the sole source of rules and enforcement, responsibility is lost or diluted.
Government is incompetent, and so are its law enforcement institutions serving as the risk factor tied to government’s ever increasing book of rules. Without stigma serving as an early deterrent of what Scruton calls “criminal schemes,” criminals are free to act irresponsibly.
In other words, without stigma serving as a self-regulation of the community, there’s only an arbitrary, external force in place. Powerful enough to crush entire groups of people, but inefficient enough to help create real criminals.
In the meantime, this powerful force picks and chooses which moral codes people must follow. But what happens if these values do not coincide with what that community would have adopted otherwise? People who would have lived happy and fulfilling lives in a more self-regulated community are now turned into criminals.
And yet, the crowd that now chants, cries, and creates chaos in the name of strengthening the state appears oblivious of how much power they are handing over to their mighty oppressor. To them, allowing communities to self-regulate is just too much of a stomach-turning thought to bear.
Out With The Old, In With The New
Scruton writes that stigma never really lost its role in society. What changed was its kind.
With the denial of guilt being attached to a variety of toxic behaviors turning into a stigma of its own, people who live by old moral codes now are suddenly ostracized, threatened, and often forced to live under constant abuse.
And unlike the old stigma, the new, Scruton writes, has nothing to do with instilling the sense of responsibility. Instead, it forces us to simply be afraid of expressing ourselves. Why? Because the state is watching and will punish those who think differently.
“Political correctness is not a morality in the traditional sense: it does not require you to change your life, to make sacrifices, or to live by an exacting code of conduct,” he explains. “It tells you to watch your language, so as to avoid the only prevalent adverse judgment, which is judgment of the adverse judge.”
By twisting stigma and using it against independent communities, societies have opened the door to chaos and decadence. Not simply because moral codes aren’t upheld, but because individuals are not given the chance to see their actions for what they are and what consequences they produce.
What’s to follow is the end of civilization as we know it. As Camille Paglia explains, the obsession with androgyny we see today comes “as a civilization is starting to unravel. You find it again and again and again in history.”
The elite now, she adds, may feel sophisticated because of their seemingly openness to the denial of science and reality. But what they represent is “a civilization that no longer believes in itself.” And as we approach the end of this chapter, we wonder what comes next.