Safety Seeking and Cancellation

Safety Seeking and Cancellation

This was originally published March 17, 2021

Earlier I was reflecting on the way that being in a healthy relationship has helped me heal so much trauma and helped me to experience safety and something really clicked/struck me about the nature of cancel culture and trauma.

There are many many reasons I was invested in cancel culture before- but one thing that was at the core of it for me was safety. And that’s something I recognized at the time too- I talked so much about community boundaries and creating safe communities even though the facts that were glaring in my face told me that very very little about cancellations as they are utilized within the left create safety in any meaningful way.

In my process of peeling back the layers on this the most obvious thing to me at first was that cancel culture is punitive. It’s about rage and displaced trauma.

Which is true- because accepting that everything exists in complex multitudes, I know that this is a HUGE piece of the cancel culture puzzle.

But what feels palpable to me as I reflect in this moment is that even if I know that cancel culture does not create safety in any meaningful material way, it offers an illusion of safety that is deeply alluring to those of us living with trauma. So when we say that cancelling is about safety we might not be talking about anything rooted in objective reality- but we are talking about an inner experience that FEELS real to us.

It makes us feel safer to believe that we have tools to protect ourselves and others from abuse. In that way, cancel culture is about safety, and to challenge that to those who are entrenched in it is to challenge what they believe keeps them safe. I believe this is a large piece of why this conversation is so fraught.

Creating real safety though requires us to do something terrifying- it requires us to abandon that illusion in favor of recognizing our own agency and the power we have to create safe and healthy relationships, to set boundaries, and to intervene on violence in ways that are effective and keep the humanity of all intact.

This is a leap that many are terrified to take, and I know there are many who cannot take that leap because they believe that leap is too dangerous, they don’t see what’s on the other side, and genuinely cannot comprehend a framework that takes abuse intervention seriously, doesn’t regard cancellation as a useful or humane tactic, and is committed to the humanity of all at the same time.

As long as cancel culture holds the illusion of safety I don’t know that it is something we can expect to overcome any time soon.

I believe we will inch closer to abolishing cancel culture when we’ve cancelled the culture that got us here- when everyone has access to housing, nourishing food and clean water, healthcare, and safety- when anyone can exercise true consent in relationships because they have somewhere safe to be and resources that will support them in creating boundaries in their lives, when people begin to experience safety, for many for the first time in their lives, then I believe we will be in a place where people can step back and see what safety is really about.

In the meantime I am proud to find myself among a growing community of people who are dedicated to creating a leftist culture where we do not discard one another, where we can grow and stretch and strengthen our ability to hold conflict, tension, disagreement, even abuse, and do so with integrity and care, and with the ultimate goal of supporting healing and transformation for all involved.

But this perspective feels important to understand- because it’s easy to look at cancellers and feel disturbed and disgusted by their behavior. Cancellations are deeply traumatizing- for the ones who are cancelled and many of us experience vicarious traumatization watching it happen.

Safety Seeking and Cancellation

Earlier I was reflecting on the way that being in a healthy relationship has helped me heal so much trauma and helped me to experience safety and something really clicked/struck me about the nature of cancel culture and trauma.

There are many many reasons I was invested in cancel culture before- but one thing that was at the core of it for me was safety. And that’s something I recognized at the time too- I talked so much about community boundaries and creating safe communities even though the facts that were glaring in my face told me that very very little about cancellations as they are utilized within the left create safety in any meaningful way.

In my process of peeling back the layers on this the most obvious thing to me at first was that cancel culture is punitive. It’s about rage and displaced trauma.

Which is true- because accepting that everything exists in complex multitudes, I know that this is a HUGE piece of the cancel culture puzzle.

But what feels palpable to me as I reflect in this moment is that even if I know that cancel culture does not create safety in any meaningful material way, it offers an illusion of safety that is deeply alluring to those of us living with trauma. So when we say that cancelling is about safety we might not be talking about anything rooted in objective reality- but we are talking about an inner experience that FEELS real to us.

It makes us feel safer to believe that we have tools to protect ourselves and others from abuse. In that way, cancel culture is about safety, and to challenge that to those who are entrenched in it is to challenge what they believe keeps them safe. I believe this is a large piece of why this conversation is so fraught.

Creating real safety though requires us to do something terrifying- it requires us to abandon that illusion in favor of recognizing our own agency and the power we have to create safe and healthy relationships, to set boundaries, and to intervene on violence in ways that are effective and keep the humanity of all intact.

This is a leap that many are terrified to take, and I know there are many who cannot take that leap because they believe that leap is too dangerous, they don’t see what’s on the other side, and genuinely cannot comprehend a framework that takes abuse intervention seriously, doesn’t regard cancellation as a useful or humane tactic, and is committed to the humanity of all at the same time.

As long as cancel culture holds the illusion of safety I don’t know that it is something we can expect to overcome any time soon.

I believe we will inch closer to abolishing cancel culture when we’ve cancelled the culture that got us here- when everyone has access to housing, nourishing food and clean water, healthcare, and safety- when anyone can exercise true consent in relationships because they have somewhere safe to be and resources that will support them in creating boundaries in their lives, when people begin to experience safety, for many for the first time in their lives, then I believe we will be in a place where people can step back and see what safety is really about.

In the meantime I am proud to find myself among a growing community of people who are dedicated to creating a leftist culture where we do not discard one another, where we can grow and stretch and strengthen our ability to hold conflict, tension, disagreement, even abuse, and do so with integrity and care, and with the ultimate goal of supporting healing and transformation for all involved.

But this perspective feels important to understand- because it’s easy to look at cancellers and feel disturbed and disgusted by their behavior. Cancellations are deeply traumatizing- for the ones who are cancelled and many of us experience vicarious traumatization watching it happen.

But cancellers are human too and there is nothing inherently immoral about attempting to seek safety. We can refuse to condone or participate in their methods while holding compassion at the same time.

But cancellers are human too and there is nothing inherently immoral about attempting to seek safety. We can refuse to condone or participate in their methods while holding compassion at the same time.

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