Fragility in the Time of Cancellation


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While the Red Goat Collective does a thorough critique of cancel culture, they spend little energy excavating its roots or the reasons it has manifested as a symptom in this current conjuncture, or “muck of the ages”, as they so eloquently put it. I guess that’s what this dialogue is about. Because unless we can use the symptom to diagnose and treat the disease, little will change.

The two causes the collective do identify in the final paragraphs provide a good starting point: “corporate social media” and the “damage of capitalism”. Others more qualified than myself have explicated the qualitative change in social relations brought on by this new media (and medium) and I think most people accept that it tends to strangle discourse. Like so much technology that raced out ahead of cultural synthesis, algorithmically mediated social media lends itself to accelerated alienation and toxic egotism. 

What I think needs more theorizing is the “damage” we witness in the psycho-social realm and how this might explain the tragic fragility of the post post-modern subject, on both the left and the right. A fragility that would require cancellation as a form of protection, refuge or safety. A fragility that should not be mocked or denigrated but seen as the newest result of capitalist exploitation. “Triggers” are but the latest iteration of “mind-forged manacles” and dismissing them as silly or the result of “false consciousness” won’t reduce their affect.

The assaults of capitalism come from every possible angle and at increasing speed and frequency. The “wreckage” that Walter Benjamin’s Angel of History watched pile up now grows exponentially. We don’t have gas chambers, but it is a charnel house nonetheless. Who among us can watch it unfold and remain untraumatized? The present is a conjuncture of multiplying crises. And then of course, there is the terrifying future. A society of psychically healthy, sane and rational individuals would be doing everything in its power to avert the catastrophe. That is not us. Ranked among the symptoms of our collective PTSD- mass shootings, suicide, overdose, depression, domestic violence, self-mutilation- some left cancellation seems tepid, almost quaint by comparison. At least it’s not the reactionary death-cult which has manifested on the Right! 

So how then do I imagine collective therapy and possible healing – or at least awareness of our sickness? The first thing might be understanding that those doing the cancelling are often in as much pain as those being cancelled. And then treating them as such. This is incredibly hard and I fail at it constantly. Therapy might start with each member of our healing “group” starting with the simple statement, adopted from the AA methodology, that I am Such and Such and I am a Capitalist Subject. We live in tragic times and the left may have to become comfortable with the fact that people often need to give themselves over to a Higher Power. By admitting our collective condition of agonized forgetting/remembering, we can start the process of re-integration. We are all walking wounded. A little sympathy and compassion is a place to start.

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