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There's No Shame in Shaming An Asshole

04/17/2014 11:58 EDT | Updated 06/16/2017 11:23 EDT

A co-worker of mine was telling a story the other day about a great experience that he had on a bus here in not-so-sunny Vancouver. Let's all hide our surprise at the phrase 'great experience on a bus' having nothing to do with exhibitionist sex. There's more important forces at work here.

After boarding, he and a friend were standing near the back doors. From what I know of him, I would be surprised to find that they were anything but polite and courteous to those around them. I'd imagine many of the other passengers felt the same way. I don't encounter many problems on Translink, and those I have were few and far between; I'd consider this to be the norm. But one maverick with a mouth had decided that everyone would listen to the very personal and very vocal offense he had taken with the two men in the doorway. Men that he had also decided were, to use his words, faggots.

After enduring several minutes of his mumbled ranting and rambling, a curious thing happened.

In my many journeys on public transportation services I have typically observed (in almost every sense of the word) a sort of social contract: that no one shall interfere with any behavior, no matter how eye-rollingly stupid or borderline threatening, unless it's drastically overt. Otherwise, it's just not done. Unless someone throws a punch or otherwise takes harassment to the next level, people just tend to ignore it as best they can. It's a lot easier now that we all have screens and headphones to bury our heads instead of sand.

But this time, the other passengers had had just about enough of this loud idiot. They didn't try to grab him and toss him off, or push him around. All they did was start shouting back. An entire bus came to the aid of two dudes they didn't even know, heaping abuse onto the guy who was antagonizing them until he shamefully got off the bus at the next stop.

This is the sort of stuff that warms my heart.

The incident sparked a discussion later that day. I had put forth the argument that things like this need to happen more often. My friend -- the very same one involved in the whole affair -- disagreed. He said that it might only make things worse, since the red-faced dick who was shamed off the bus might just keep festering his hate and ignorance elsewhere, feeling ostracized from his fellow humans.

I fail to see the problem.

How are we ever going to get better if we make excuses for those who try to hold us back?

Some are fundamentally religious shouting nonsense at us from one direction, deciding that some things are right or wrong based on the scribblings of liars and undiagnosed schizophrenics. Well, if it gives them comfort. (I guess we just forget about the comfort so many are denied by religious fundamentalists.)

Some are atheists, smug in their non belief and more than happy to declare any level of spirituality foolish because of lack of proof. The obvious disparity between the logical inconsistencies of organized religion and a more undefined belief in something unproven doesn't occur to them. You might remind them how hypotheses begin according to the scientific method, because so many of them "F&%@ING LOVE science."

The list goes on. If you're wondering whether or not you're on the list, I figure that pretty much anyone blinded to common sense and empathy by their own ideology is probably somewhere on it. The list is titled "Assholes."

Who cares if an asshole is feeling ostracized for being an asshole? Isn't that sort of the point? If they stew on it and distance themselves from other people, that's a win. Who wants to spend time with an asshole? If they revisit their thinking in order to avoid being shamed again, so much the better; either way, we lose one asshole. The fundamental nature of my friend's disagreement with me came from his merging of the terms "shaming" and "blaming."

How can you blame a religious person for the way they were raised, the world that was built up around them their entire lives? For wanting to make the world how they were told it Must Be? How could you feel any differently towards someone raised with conceptions of intense sexism, racism, or other prejudices? How about the alarmingly stupid, poorly educated, or those just slow from birth?

It's not their fault, is it?

No. It's not. But just because something isn't your fault doesn't mean you get a free pass on hurting others. You can't blame a dog for having a squirt on the rug. Maybe you were late getting back to walk it, maybe it just couldn't hold it anymore, or maybe a backfiring car spooked it. It's a dog. There's no reason to beat it with a stick for something that it didn't have a lot of control over or is simply too stupid to realize was wrong. You don't blame it, but you still rub its nose in the puddle to shame it into not doing that again.

I draw a huge difference between blaming a person for things they can't control and shaming them for the things they can.

At its core, that's nothing more than me justifying it to myself when I troll people I don't like. I'll be the first to admit it. But fresh off my conversations with the formerly-persecuted co worker, I had just staked out a spot on the soft grassy carpet of the moral high ground. It was right about then that I suffered a misfortune of my own.

My Galaxy Nexus smartphone, only a little more than a year old, had drowned alone in dark, freezing water (that rushed out of the cup that I tipped over right next to it). The screen flashed once, alarmed. Then it gurgled into stillness.

Panic set in.

After I pulled it from the rice-y grip of death and found it still lifeless in my hand, I knew it was time to upgrade. Days of disputes with Wind Mobile had led me to Google Play or Craigslist in search of a Nexus 5. But I had heard horror stories of blacklisted phones and was wary of every offer. It's probably good practice to be suspicious of anyone you interact with on Craigslist (or the Internet in general), but my ears were pricked up for any sign of danger.

I eventually ran across a wonderful poster who had purchased a Nexus 5 for his girlfriend around Christmas and later found that she preferred her HTC One (no accounting for taste, I suppose). He was selling the 32GB Nexus 5 for less than what Google Play was, and it came with a couple of cases and accoutrements. (As far as Wind goes, I would have paid an extra $150 for just the 16GB model -- thanks, Canadian telecoms.) I decided to go with him after we had levelled the playing field and exchanged social media and work contacts. We emailed back and forth, I met him near Metrotown, and we did our exchange.

While all this was happening, I was having the complete opposite experience elsewhere on Craigslist. Where one poster was polite and accommodating, the other seemed shockingly unable to pay attention to the smallest detail of my messages. Lucky for me I was already in business with my new friend and his Nexus 5, so I decided to string this other fellow along as far as possible until he realized what I was doing and dropped the whole thing. A bit of light trolling to brighten my day.

This is his story.

This is also where shaming assholes comes back into play.

Who knows? Maybe this guy doesn't post on Craigslist again. Maybe he reads an email next time instead of just replying to it. Let's focus on the important thing here: I got to have a little fun at his expense.

Can you blame me?

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(Take a wild guess as to whether I got a call back from him.)

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