Fat Acceptance => is it ever okay to shame people?

I see lots of critiques of fat acceptance on youtube. Some thoughts

Two definitions of fat acceptance:

  1. people shouldn’t be shamed/discriminated against/stigmatised for being fat
  2. being fat isn’t health wise bad for a person

2 is obviously false. I’ll write a bit about 1.

Srdjan: Initial thoughts: Shame = making people feel bad for doing something. It’s generally wrong to intentionally make people feel bad. It’s additionally wrong to infringe on others autonomy by coercing them. If done at a strong enough intensity, I think shame can be coercive in the same way physical force can be. (e.g: imagine I have a shame ray gun that makes someone feel extremely intense shame when I shoot them. I pre-commit to shooting people who do X with the ray consistently for an hour to incentivise them not do X. This feels coercive in a similar way that inflicting a strong negative sensation via whipping would be)

Mirror Srdjan: Why is it bad? Punishing murderers and rapists is fine not just for consequential reasons (less crime in the future) but also because they deserve to suffer as they have made others suffer (<== YMMV on this intuition). How is this different for obesity. Shaming them may well:

  • lead to less obese people = less suffering from disease and early death
  • be morally correct because the obese lead a decadent lifestyle

Srdjan: Hmmm. Okay, but something seems off here.

  • Punishing obese people seems different from punishing rapists and murderers. Obese people aren’t violating others rights or choosing to do immense harm to others. Obese people rather make decisions that harm themselves. Coercing A to stop them infringing on B’s rights is one thing. Coercing A because you think A’s actions are suboptimal for their own interests is a different thing.
  • The consequential point is a different one I’ll address later. To keep it short: I’m not sure about the factual claim that shaming obesity leads to less obesity. I’m also not sure I buy that (coercing A will increase A’s utility) => (coercing A is justified). I could be swayed if people could opt into being shamed e.g: by wearing a "shame me if I do X" bracelet but that’s not the case in reality. I could also maybe be swayed if more than 50% of obese people would rather be shamed than not shamed but again I don’t think this is true. (Counterargument: What if 50+% of all people would like to be shamed and looking only at currently obese people is unfair because it’s selecting for people who shaming doesn’t work?)

Mirror Srdjan: Does this logic apply to all shaming for deviation from social norms? Don’t you believe that there should be strong norms that discourage fathers from abandoning their families and children? Isn’t shaming a major way to enforce norms?

Srdjan: I’m unsure deeply unsure here. I guess my thoughts are something like this:

  • Some things are so bad that we should use physical force to stop people doing them (e.g: murder, rape)
  • Other things are bad, but not bad enough to warrant overt coercion. Instead society should judge people doing them as bad and that bad reputation should have some effects. (e.g: A person who cheats on their girl/boyfriend)
  • Crucially, all these bad things are things that effect 3rd parties. Violence, breaking a contract, etc…
  • I’m still just not sure what level of utility gain to individual X, if any, justifies coercing an individual X. Still, I personally would rather live in a society with strong social norms, even enforced by shame, than without them. I’m not sure how to reconcile that. Maybe there are 3rd party effects from a lot of things like e.g: having kids and abandoning them. Maybe that’s a cop-out.

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