Cathy O'Neil

The Shame Machine
  • The Shame Machine

  • Shame is a powerful and sometimes useful tool. When we publicly shame corrupt politicians, abusive celebrities, or predatory corporations, we reinforce values of fairness and justice. But as Cathy O'Neil argues in this revelatory book, shaming has taken a new and dangerous turn. It is increasingly being weaponized -- used as a way to shift responsibility for social problems from institutions to individuals. Shaming children for not being able to afford school lunches or adults for not being able to find work lets us off the hook as a society. After all, why pay higher taxes to fund programmes for people who are fundamentally unworthy?

    O'Neil explores the machinery behind all this shame, showing how governments, corporations and the healthcare system capitalize on it. There are damning stories of rehab clinics, reentry programs, drug and diet companies, and social media platforms -- all of which profit from 'punching down' on the vulnerable. Woven throughout The Shame Machine is the story of O'Neil's own struggle with body image and her recent decision to undergo weight-loss surgery, shaking off decades of shame.

    With clarity and nuance, O'Neil dissects the relationship between shame and power. Whom does the system serve? How do current incentive structures perpetuate the shaming cycle? And, most important, how can we all fight back?

Cathy O'Neil is the author of the bestselling Weapons of Math Destruction, which won the Euler Book Prize and was longlisted for the National Book Award. She received her PhD in mathematics from Harvard and has worked in finance, tech, and academia. She launched the Lede Program for data journalism at Columbia University and recently founded ORCAA, an algorithmic auditing company. O'Neil is a regular contributor to Bloomberg View.

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