Erving Goffman wrote an excellent wee book called Stigma: notes on the management of spoiled identity. I refer back to it.

Goffman begins explaining stigma: A part that I liked particularly was the fact that stigma is “a special kind of relationship between attribute and stereotype” … that “stigma and its synonyms conceal a double perspective: does the stigmatized individual assume his differentness is known about already or is evident on the spot, or does he assume it is neither known about by those present nor immediately perceivable by them? In the first case one deals with the plight of the discredited, in the second with that of the discreditable. This is an important difference, even though a particular stigmatized individual is likely to have experience with both situations.”

Lets unpack these a bit. A relationship between an attribute and a stereotype: stigma exists in the minds of the larger society exacting the stigma. Perhaps not everyone allows stigma to guide their actions but let me tell you, enough of them do. I am someone that considers themselves party to a NUMBER of discreditable identities… I can tell you from personal experience: It is the most painful thing to interact with someone who has a huge looming stereotype for how and why you are behaving the way you are that may or may not fly with your actual reasons and actual behaviour.

Lets move on to discredited versus discreditable…. I’ve now made a call out on my personal feed for people to help me find the term that describes this and had to wait a few minutes to be rewarded with someone reminding me the terms I was looking for within a context of identity politics is ‘visible minority’ versus ‘invisible minority’ and ‘ascribed statuses’, which are identities other people give you, versus ‘achieved status’ which is something you choose for yourself.

Our society experiences a couple of big problems with the fact that huge numbers of us discredit other huge numbers based on ascribed statuses we give them based on the visibility of their minority. The intersection of privileges and disadvantages conferred to people based on their relative place within this societal spectrum is kyriarchy which is something we all live under. We are all conferred benefits and disadvantages by this system relative to how we place on it.

Goffman identified three different types of stigma and by god I’m not directly quoting anything from this section because it was written in 1963 and the language in it is abominable. I’m just going to paraphrase as loosely as I can while still describing the things.

  • Body stigma: physical disability and difference.
  • Stigma on the character of an individual: ‘weaknesses of will’, dishonesty, treacherous or rigid beliefs, domineering or ‘unnatural’ passions, “all of these things being inferred from a known record of, for example, mental disorder, imprisonment, addiction, alcoholism, homosexuality, unemployment, suicide attempts, and radical political behaviour.”
  • Tribal stigma: of race, nation and religion.

Any of these three types of potentially stigmatizing attributes can be visible or invisible, ascribed or achieved.

I would argue that identity politics has worked to make racism and discrimination and profiteering a stigmatizing attribute on the basis of an individual’s poor character.

But here’s where there’s excess gears in our system. It’s impossible to change the dominant culture of a society without doing so very intentionally. It is COMPLETELY POSSIBLE; however, to fracture a culture by attempting to change the way certain people participate in stigma. We are experiencing it now.

Differing opinions of who should be stigmatized and how and why are what I see most of our cultural arguments boiling down to.

And this leads me back to the original point of this thought process. I saw someone mention that Martin Shkrelli might experience stigma as a result of their profiteering in the pharmaceutical industry.

I argue that while he might experience stigma from the population within America and Canada that views his actions as deplorable. I would argue that he has the power and finances available to him to almost never have to deal with anyone who would stigmatize him. I argue that the dominant overarching culture of capitalism in United States and Canada thinks he’s a clever person for his profiteering and he will never face consequences or stigma from anyone within his circle of people who might conceivably have power over his life.

This is not the case for people who have stigmatized identities and lack his power and prestige. There will always be a group of people with the money and power and prestige associated with their place in society bitching about how much stigma they have received from people who hate that they have done what they have…

But it will never affect their daily lives. That’s not stigma.

I believe that a global understanding of what stigma is and how we want to stigmatize is the key to using this tool that we have developed and evolved over thousands of years of collectively settling together…. for good.