Shame Projection

Marco Arment addresses the common defense among media pirates that lack of a legal alternative has “forced” them into pirating it:

Admit it: you’re ripping it off, it’s morally questionable at best (and illegal), but you don’t care.

A few years ago my wife opened my eyes to the phenomenon of shame projection. In short: assigning blame for your own shortcomings to external circumstances. Now it’s like that thing where you learn a new word and suddenly start noticing it everywhere: our society is swimming in shame projection.

I am no psychologist, nor have I ever taken a psychology class, nor have I even finished the “Psychological Projection” Wikipedia article cited above. So I’m probably completely misguided and wrong about this, but an example that springs to mind is when a motorist almost runs me down, and then screams at me for being in the way.

What happened in the blink of an eye is:

  1. Motorist is cruising along, distracted, late for work, whatever.
  2. I step into the crosswalk, over-confident of my right of way.
  3. Motorist proceeds to within inches of striking me before braking abruptly.
  4. Motorist feels terrified, ashamed, regretful, and then grateful I’m not hurt.
  5. I, nearly killed, glare my visceral outrage at motorist.
  6. Motorist feels offended by my lack of graciousness upon not being killed.
  7. Motorist’s brain seeks unconsciously for directions to project blame.
  8. Upon not finding any reasonable outlet, brain settles on me. Watch where you’re going, you idiot!
  9. Motorist carries on, content that he or she was the victim, not me.

Most folks who pirate media are feeling some of those same terrified, ashamed, regretful, and grateful feelings that the motorist felt upon almost killing me. In the case Marco cites, the projection outlet is on the companies for not making the media available.

This kind of projection seems to have a delightful efficiency. When the media companies do make the media available, the blame will be on their pricing it too high. When the price is right, it’s the media format that’s wrong. If the media format is right, then the DRM is too odious. If DRM is absent, then the authors are making too much money, anyway. If the authors aren’t making much, you’re only pirating to try it out. Once you’ve tried it and like it, you’ll pay for it when you get your next paycheck. You wouldn’t have to pirate at all if your boss wasn’t such a cheapskate and paid you better…