I used to cancel people, back when we called it “calling out.”
I unfollowed the problematic, passed along the receipts, and made sure to temper my praise of any public figure with the requisite digs at their privileged identities and lack of social-justice zeal. I did it partly out of fear — the best way to avoid getting cancelled yourself is to find other targets. Keep the spotlight on someone else. I also did it out of a sense of joyless moral obligation. I felt sure that what I was doing was necessary to make the world safer for the marginalized (well — I convinced myself that the people who were more oppressed than me thought that, and that my privilege blinded me to their insight — and isn’t that close enough to actually believing it? At least I believed that I should believe it, and that’s enough to act on).
But it wasn’t all grim duty. When you dogpile someone, you get to lose your sense of a separate self, at least for a minute. You merge into a larger whole, the raindrop joining the river. It feels good.
It also feels good to wield power, even if it’s only the power to give a stranger an anxiety attack. Plus, it comes with a built-in moral justification. You’d feel guilty if you shouted at a rando on the bus, but this way? You get to fight oppression without having to get up off the couch. You feel like the wrath of God. Ask any gambler — nothing hooks you faster than intermittent reward surrounded by risk.
Does it sound spiritually degrading? It should. You’re literally making other people’s lives worse for fun and dressing it up as morality. When you take part, you’re training yourself to be a worse person: less kind, less forgiving, less trustworthy. It’s like a bizarro-world metta bhavana. That isn’t good for anyone. Even if it was necessary for the triumph of progressive politics, it wouldn’t be worth it.
And, of course, it doesn’t actually help the progressive cause. Name just one woman, person of color, or LGBTQ individual whose life has been improved by a social media pile-on. Cancel culture does not help. In fact, it leaves marginalized people worse off than they were before in three ways:
- The individuals (both privileged and oppressed) who participate in cancel culture become less happy, more anti-social, and less able to…