Cancel Culture and Responsibility
This was originally published on March 11th, 2021.
In my experience, people enmeshed in cancel culture are no better at taking responsibility for the harm they cause than the people they are cancelling are.
That isn’t to say that people enmeshed in cancel culture are worse at it- just that I think it’s a very normal, common thing to respond to critical feedback with activation, and that your place in cancel culture isn’t an indication that you are better at taking responsibility than anyone else.
Sometimes it can be a barrier to taking responsibility for yourself though- if you find yourself often seeking an enemy, you might be prone to seeing yourself as victimized no matter the context of the situation.
Additionally cancel culture creates vicarious traumatization which can prevent us from engaging authentically with conflict- we know exactly what happens to people who are cancelled and rather than approaching our capacity to harm others with honesty and integrity, we are concerned with not having cancel culture turned upon us.
Cancel culture holds a standard of behavior where defensiveness and fawning are often pointed to as further proof of someone’s status as “unsafe”. One is expected to respond to immaculate standards when being called out- frequently they are not allowed to ask questions or disagree with the level to which they are being held responsible. On top of all of this, the standards for accountability are often moving goal posts.
I believed for a long time that cancel culture created safety by ejecting dangerous people from communities, but as I’ve looked more honestly at the behaviors that cancel culture cultivates, the more I have seen that the opposite is true.
Cancel culture creates unstable communities, it does not foster the development of resilience, it does not teach us how to navigate abuse and manipulation effectively, and it does not keep us safe.
A resilient community allows for authenticity. It does not carefully control what true authenticity looks like- because like it or not, an authentic response to being confronted might not look like deference.