The Appeal of Cancel Culture and How to Create True Safety

The Appeal of Cancel Culture and How to Create True Safety

This was originally published September 8. 2021

When I listen to many people entrenched in cancel culture talk about why they believe what they believe, the logic is sound on the surface.

It makes sense, right? People hurt others, refuse to change, get kicked out of community. That’s the idea and it sounds so simple.

And of course the simplicity of it betrays the fact that such a solution is too good to be true, or realistic in any way.

And speaking both as someone who has been a part of it, and as someone who listens to and reads the ideas of people who stand by cancellation as a useful and valid tactic for intervening on violence and keeping survivors safe, I can say that it is painfully obvious to me now how much these ideas come from a place of deep hurt and a sense of betrayal and abandonment by one’s community.

No matter how logically laid out the arguments are, there is a fundamental disconnect and cognitive dissonance- because we know that that these tactics don’t work.

Trying to achieve community consensus to throw out a whole ass person is extremely challenging- near impossible- because while there may even be a majority of people who you can appeal to through moral reasoning and the threat of guilt by association- you cannot argue your way to a person’s heart who does not believe in abandoning someone.

You cannot argue your way past the many ways cancellation campaigns claim attempts at intervention that we all know were not enough.

You cannot argue your way past our intuition that many times this isn’t about abuse at all- it’s about control.

When I hear people arguing so passionately for cancellation, I know there is a story there, because there always is. Because I remember being that person. Because I have seen it so many times I know that these arguments don’t come from nowhere.

Oftentimes, the story is one of trying to heal from abuse- to find safety. To feel held, understood, valued, believed.

I cannot emphasize the terror I had to face when I finally came to integrity around cancel culture.

And when I say integrity- I don’t mean that I secretly held this value and had been lying about it or something. Because I deeply believed in the logic of cancel culture for a long, long time.

I mean that I stopped ignoring all of the ways the logic was broken.

I had to reconcile the deep pain I felt, the loneliness, the experience of being abandoned by community as a survivor, my embarrassment at the choice I made to call out the person who abused me- I had to reconcile all of these things with the reality I couldn’t ignore anymore: that I had other choices available to me that would have ultimately served my own healing much better.

I am passionately in opposition to cancel culture now. I see a way to navigate abuse and conflict that doesn’t dehumanize people who abuse and leaves a path open for healing and empowerment for both survivors AND the people who abused them.

At it’s root, I believe the project to hold abusers accountable is the same project as empowering survivors.

They are two sides of the same coin.

Not because we empower survivors by kicking the people who hurt them to the curb.

But because we empower survivors to take their agency back from the person who tried to take it from them. Because we educate survivors to identify the ways that these subtle power grabs have been flying under their radar. Because when abuse and manipulation tactics are exposed, they no longer hold power.

When you set straight the appropriate division of power and responsibility among two human beings, abuse is impossible.

Cancel culture logic stops making the simplistic sense it makes when we have appropriate frameworks and tools to intervene on abuse. When we show up to lift survivors up and show them we are there for them and want them to be safe.

We do not have to shame, demonize, or abandon people who abuse. We only need to create the conditions where their tactics will not work, and support them in taking responsibility for the growth they need to do to create healthier and safer relationships.

But the reality is that there is nowhere near the level and availability of support needed to carry out these interventions on the scale that is necessary.

And as long as this is the case, cancel culture will be an enticing path available to people who are seeking safety.

They will not find safety there, but they will find comfort in a promise of safety that will never be delivered.

There is one thing I have held onto from my days supporting cancel culture, and that is that we need to treat abuse intervention as something we do on the personal and community scale.

The Appeal of Cancel Culture and How to Create True Safety

This was originally published September 8. 2021

When I listen to many people entrenched in cancel culture talk about why they believe what they believe, the logic is sound on the surface.

It makes sense, right? People hurt others, refuse to change, get kicked out of community. That’s the idea and it sounds so simple.

And of course the simplicity of it betrays the fact that such a solution is too good to be true, or realistic in any way.

And speaking both as someone who has been a part of it, and as someone who listens to and reads the ideas of people who stand by cancellation as a useful and valid tactic for intervening on violence and keeping survivors safe, I can say that it is painfully obvious to me now how much these ideas come from a place of deep hurt and a sense of betrayal and abandonment by one’s community.

No matter how logically laid out the arguments are, there is a fundamental disconnect and cognitive dissonance- because we know that that these tactics don’t work.

Trying to achieve community consensus to throw out a whole ass person is extremely challenging- near impossible- because while there may even be a majority of people who you can appeal to through moral reasoning and the threat of guilt by association- you cannot argue your way to a person’s heart who does not believe in abandoning someone.

You cannot argue your way past the many ways cancellation campaigns claim attempts at intervention that we all know were not enough.

You cannot argue your way past our intuition that many times this isn’t about abuse at all- it’s about control.

When I hear people arguing so passionately for cancellation, I know there is a story there, because there always is. Because I remember being that person. Because I have seen it so many times I know that these arguments don’t come from nowhere.

Oftentimes, the story is one of trying to heal from abuse- to find safety. To feel held, understood, valued, believed.

I cannot emphasize the terror I had to face when I finally came to integrity around cancel culture.

And when I say integrity- I don’t mean that I secretly held this value and had been lying about it or something. Because I deeply believed in the logic of cancel culture for a long, long time.

I mean that I stopped ignoring all of the ways the logic was broken.

I had to reconcile the deep pain I felt, the loneliness, the experience of being abandoned by community as a survivor, my embarrassment at the choice I made to call out the person who abused me- I had to reconcile all of these things with the reality I couldn’t ignore anymore: that I had other choices available to me that would have ultimately served my own healing much better.

I am passionately in opposition to cancel culture now. I see a way to navigate abuse and conflict that doesn’t dehumanize people who abuse and leaves a path open for healing and empowerment for both survivors AND the people who abused them.

At it’s root, I believe the project to hold abusers accountable is the same project as empowering survivors.

They are two sides of the same coin.

Not because we empower survivors by kicking the people who hurt them to the curb.

But because we empower survivors to take their agency back from the person who tried to take it from them. Because we educate survivors to identify the ways that these subtle power grabs have been flying under their radar. Because when abuse and manipulation tactics are exposed, they no longer hold power.

When you set straight the appropriate division of power and responsibility among two human beings, abuse is impossible.

Cancel culture logic stops making the simplistic sense it makes when we have appropriate frameworks and tools to intervene on abuse. When we show up to lift survivors up and show them we are there for them and want them to be safe.

We do not have to shame, demonize, or abandon people who abuse. We only need to create the conditions where their tactics will not work, and support them in taking responsibility for the growth they need to do to create healthier and safer relationships.

But the reality is that there is nowhere near the level and availability of support needed to carry out these interventions on the scale that is necessary.

And as long as this is the case, cancel culture will be an enticing path available to people who are seeking safety.

They will not find safety there, but they will find comfort in a promise of safety that will never be delivered.

There is one thing I have held onto from my days supporting cancel culture, and that is that we need to treat abuse intervention as something we do on the personal and community scale.

Abuse intervention needs to be a grassroots project that we all take part in. If we want to end cancel culture, we need to be able offer a viable alternative that creates safety, growth, and healing for all involved.

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