cancel culture as banishment15 Apr 2021
I really want to read adrienne maree brown’s book We Will Not Cancel Us. I think we need to be really critical of cancel culture as it creates a lot of divided in our already divided left. Conspiracy theories like Pastel Q-Anon make me even more worried about how things might evolve. Accounts like caitdissociates on IG who self-proclaimed as “Pastel QAnon/Alt-Right Cult Destroyer” feed those worries. Many of their posts claim that Jay Manicom and Clementine Morrigan (who are partners) are responsible for Alt-Right Abuse Cult because Jay made his master thesis on the topic. Like… I’m studying capitalism and fascism, does it makes me a capitalist fascist? My point being that it is quite normal, even strategic, for leftists to study the right and that doesn’t mean anything. On that topic, this interesting article on cancel culture Deconstructing and critiquing the Court of Social Justice and “accountability has Jay Manicom as a case study. But it’s a recommended read, no matter if you care or not about that Jay.
Meanwhile, on my side, bits of text I’ve read a while ago came back to mind. The text was Disrupting Rape Culture (2019) by Fanghanel and covered how the BDSM community was dealing with people who do not respect boundaries. In some way, they have their own kind of cancel culture, where being called-out equals being banished, ostracised. In my opinion, the online cancel culture is quite the same : what you seek is banishment of the person, not a change in this person (even if the words say that what we seek is change in behaviors, I feel like the method/comportement says otherwise). And then people unfollow those being called-out because of respectability politics, not allowing place for the exercice of the critical mind.
In the BDSM community Fanghanel observed, she said that this banishment approach “resorts to almost pre-modern forms of policing based on punitive punishment rather than what we might call restorative.” (p.143) She also goes more in lenght about banishment in and on itself :
A bandit is someone who is living in a state of exception without formal recourse to the polis. In the course of my research, it was banishment which, more than anything else, was named by members of the community as a habitual way of dealing with transgression. For Giorgio Agamben (1998), a bandit is stripped of legal status by the sovereign. Excluded from the polis (and so, ‘out there’), he must exist in a state of exception, designated by the State, beyond the beneficence of state protection and recognition as a legal person. (p.131)
The medieval way does not seem the way to go to me.
Also another element on this very blury reflexions, from the book Silicon Values (2021), on how content-moderation began :
Facebook did not until recently take proactive measure to identify prohibited content, instead relying upon its users to police the site trough a system known as community policing or “flagging”. This system, argue Kate Crawford and Tarleton Gillespie, “act[s] as a mechanism to elicit and distribute user labor — users as a volunteer corps of regulators.” […] This practice of flagging has resulted in a culture of snitching, in which people are expected to monitor each other and report problematic activity to central authority. This form of “community policing”, like the “community standards”, is hardly about community — rather, it would more accurately be compared to the US Department of Homeland Security program called “ If You See Something, Say Something R”. Designed in the wake of 9/11 to encourage ordinary citizens to report suspicious behavior to authoritis, that program in numeros instances led to the reporting of innocent people of color to law enforcement for dubious reason. (p.17)
How much have we internalized this flagging culture and how does it play with cancel culture? Of course, people of color aren’t the people the most being reported on, for once, but I think it doesn’t help at the end of the day. Like yes, maybe cancelling people does protect our community in some way. But also, maybe by targeting even more and more white people for mistakes of theirs, or unlearning they haven’t done yet, we are scaring potential allies (culture of “we cannot say anything anymore”) and isolate ourselves further more, which, at the end of the day, is more of a victory for white supremacists than for us.
White people cannot become perfect antiracist allies without interacting with BIPOC people, it’s sad but true. A white person can read all the the book on antiracism, but reading alone is not praxis, even if you want it to be praxis. You need real people, real situations, to learn. Therefore, it sucks but it’s part of the game. Also, while it is true that we must condemn harms done voluntarily, we also need to recognize that hurt people hurt people. We are all hurting under this system. Compassion is often the way to go.