This is my last post on cancel culture. It’s sad and not worth further time. Next Tuesday, I begin a new research and writing endeavor on meritocracy. Join me on an 8 week knowledge expedition deep down into the murky waters of moral philosophy and normative economics.
The final section of our current project, Panics and Persecutions (2020), includes the essay, “Sad Radicals”, by a former anarchist, taking us into the minds of those who wallow in cancel culture. It made me feel sorry for the cancellers. Hearing from a “deprogrammed” radical social justice warrior provides insight into what goes on in the heads of the woke. He cites the book Joyful Militancy (2017) in attempting to explain the radical toxicity – a paranoid, depressing morality that “binds and blinds”*. The toxicity of cancel culture is not a bug to them, it’s a feature. They operate in a “paradigm of suspicion”.
Cancellers pore over prior interactions, looking desperately for ways the mundane conceals oppression. They see every communication as containing hidden violence because of their obsession with power and domination. Freddie DeBoer calls them “offense archaeologists”. The canceller’s moral standing can only be maintained by attacking the moral standing of others. They are trapped in this mindset because of an absolute refusal to engage opposing views. Ideas that counter their worldview are met with kafkatrap – claiming that opposition to their viewpoint proves their viewpoint.
Young adults are ensnared by these bad ideas when they see cruelty, malevolence and unfairness in the world, rejecting a society that tolerates oppression. They cannot contend with opposing ideas, and instead vigorously try to silence them. They are not seekers of truth; they are guardians of a radical ideology, ready to cancel any opposition in a zealous pursuit of what they think is justice. But there is no justice without wisdom, and no wisdom without surrender to uncertainty in the pursuit of truth.
After showing us what being in this mindset is like, the author speculates on where it comes from and why it spreads so effectively. “Does it give purpose to a generation without meaning? Is it intra-class competition among overproduced elites? Is it some byproduct of economic precarity? He concludes that cancel culture will continue despite its incoherence, false assumptions and not knowing where it comes from. It’s not going away because, as a philosopher once said of capitalism: “No one has ever died from contradictions”.
* Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind (2013). A canceller’s entire identity and value as human is tied to validating their wokeness. The fact that they engage in militant cancellations and crave mob approval to be happy is sad indeed. As one commenter puts it: “I think it’s a deep sign of personal unhappiness – caused by an inner lack of purpose, meaning and fulfillment through personal and family relationships – which causes someone to heed the clarion call to radically reengineer society using force and coercion to re-order the lives of others. It’s a sign that young people are desperately unhappy that they fall for such nonsense.”
EDIT – This is a great article that gets right down to what’s happening to our culture: