In the future, everyone will be world famous for 15 minutes for having done something shameful.
You may acquire your 15 minutes of public shame for old-fashioned reasons. Perhaps you’ve had an affair. Especially if you’ve urged other people not to have affairs, then your affair, plus your hypocrisy, will be enough to launch you into the spotlight. Television pundits who usually tell you about foreign wars and tax policy will condemn your impropriety.
Perhaps you have a dark secret. A while ago, possibly a very long while ago, you did something terrible. For a year or two after the incident, you worried it would come to light. But it didn’t. Now it has. You will apologize. It won’t matter. People on social media will call your behavior abhorrent. When they first heard about your dark secret, they didn’t even know who you were. Your name sounded familiar, but that’s about all. Now they know. Now they will demand that your employer fire you and your friends shun you.
Will you deserve your shame? Maybe you will. Maybe you’ll deserve it even if your trespass, at the time of your trespass, didn’t seem that important. It was something that pretty much everyone did, that pretty much no one found unusual. In another cultural moment, no one would have cared. None of that will matter. Times change.
Or maybe you won’t deserve your shame. You may experience 15 minutes of public, fame-giving shame for something not very dark at all. Something gray, perhaps. You will argue your case. Use the words “mob justice” or “get a life.” Your self-defense can only make your situation worse. The world will be outraged by your insensitivity. You shouldn’t have done what you did. And you should have known that you shouldn’t have done it.
If someone close to you has done something shameful, that may be enough to earn you your 15 minutes. Reporters will find your phone number. Angry people on the internet will track down your email address. They will ask you what you think about so-and-so, your spouse or coworker or childhood friend. The easy thing to do would be to distance yourself. But maybe you won’t quite be able to bring yourself to say to a reporter that so-and-so deserves no quarter and no sympathy. You believe everyone deserves sympathy. Even murderers. And it’s not like so-and-so actually murdered anyone. Well, then, the public will shame you for your reluctance to shame.
Whatever you’ve done to secure your promised public shame, you may wonder what standard the public is using to judge you. If everyone gets their 15 minutes, then everyone contributing to your shame either has already experienced public shame or will experience public shame eventually, probably someday soon. They’re not innocent, in other words. They live in glass houses, in yet other words.
Taking another view of the matter, the people judging you are uniquely qualified to do so. Meet the jury of your peers. This jury does not depend on familiar legal formulas, like a “preponderance of the evidence.” It doesn’t impose a statute of limitations either. It doesn’t deliver justice in quite the same way as the justice system, but it does deliver something, and fast, unlike the justice system. It delivers what you’ve been promised: your 15 minutes of shame.